Tuesday, 14 October 2008


I'm sorry to learn that the Political Umpire has raised his finger and even as I speak Fora is heading for the pavilion and probable retirement. His blog has been, indeed remains, one of my favourites, and not just because the Umpire and I broadly share values and enjoy robust debate when our opinions differ.

To those who have yet to discover Fora, I can say no more than that there is a wonderful range of earlier posts to discover there. Hopefully this will yet prove no more than a rain delay; in the meantime go and enjoy the blogging equivalent of Headingley '81.


Political Umpire said...

Many thanks Stephen for all your kind remarks. The covers are on but the pitch won't be inspected for a while yet I'm afraid. In the meantime, I am glad that civilised values still have a home on the net here, at Jane Henry's and the rest of my blogroll.

Headingly '81 is much too kind, though it still gives me something to aim for ... I think Edgebaston 05 exceeds it (strength of both sides; in 81 both were a long way behind the best of the day, 05 they were 1 & 2 in the world). Perhaps a topic for a post pre-Ashes 09?

Stephen said...

They may not have been 1 & 2, but I suspect that both those Headingley teams would have seen their respective '05 equivalents off with little difficulty; Shane Warne the only one of the modern players who undeniably possessed the skill to turn matches. Australia undoubtably failed to play to their potential in '05.

I actually selected Headingley '81 because in the days when civilised values were more widespread cricket was shown on the BBC; the Headingley highlights were always the ones that filled extended rain delays.

Roll on the 2009 series.

Political Umpire said...

Hello Stephen, I wanted to say many thanks for the splendid gift which arrived today, I shall greatly enjoy it. I do have a reasonably formidable Arcam system (with Monitor Audio speakers) bought in the days pre-junior umpires when I actually had some spare cash.

Can't resist adding a word about cricket. England 81 look formidable on paper but the reality is few of the greats were at their peak. Botham was, and Willis was on the day it mattered, but Gatting didn't get a test hundred till 1984. Gooch didn't become a great player till something like 1989. Boycott was over 40 though still a doughty fighter. Gower just happened to have a poor series. Bob Taylor was a far better keeper than Geriant Jones I'd readily concede, and gave little in terms of batting (Jones flattered to deceive). But Brearley, great captain, was no test batsman.

I don't think Strauss and Trescothick of 05 vintage were any worse than Gooch/Boycott of 81 vintage though their overall career figures are a long way behind. Vaughan was a fine captain at the time (it's easy to forget that given his recent burnout). Most importantly the seam attack was extremely formidable - as it was for the best in the world in 1981. After Jones became injured (early in the Aus second innings in the 4th test) England's bowling suffered greatly; it was having four keeping relentless pressure that did for the Australians prior to that moment.

Now to the Australians. The only 81 players I'd have chosen for 05 would be Lillee (though he was past his peak; Botham would not have hit him in the way he did had Lillee been bowling at his mid 1970s pace), Border (very young in 1981 but the greatness was coming out alright) and Alderman in English conditions (esp if Gooch was playing). They had a serious problem with Hughes as captain as he did not command the respect of Lillee or Marsh. Greg Chappell of course was sorely missed, both as captain and the best Australian batsman since the war (arguably displaced since 81 by one or two, including Border, but not at the time).

Aus in 05 meanwhile had Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath, all of them strong candidates (I would argue essential) for the all-time Australian XI, and Ponting, who is pretty close. They had Hussey too but stupidly failed to pick him. The fact that they lost was due to Ponting's spectacularly bad captaincy in chosing to bowl at Edgebaston just after learning of McGrath's injury.

But then 05 would have been nowhere near as close had England done the agonisingly obvious thing of chosing Thorpe over Bell; the insane David Graveney was wittering aobut choosing Thorpe or Pietersen, when that was never an issue; clearly Bellwas too inexperienced then and I assure you that was a view I held as strongly before the series as after.

Political Umpire said...

Oh and agree about civilised days of old too.

Stephen said...

I'm glad (but not in the slightest surprised) to learn that you're not the sort of umpire who makes his way to the crease with an iPod tucked in your coat pocket.

To a certain extent my judgement on the relative merits of the '81 players against those of '05 stems from instinct drawn from having seen both teams - in '81 I saw both the Edgbaston and Oval tests in their entirety, in '05 more tests but only single days :( Cricket has entirely changed in that time; in '81 there were no central contracts (so players turned out for their counties in-between tests), no limits to the number of bouncers batsmen might face, and helmets were definitely for wusses. 'Sledging' had not yet arrived, simply competitive banter, and cricket was generally played in a better spirit. All this means it is very difficult to make direct comparisons between the two sets of teams.

It's worth remembering that England had lost a tough series in the West Indies the previous winter. They were considerably outclassed but not disgraced by their performances. Boycott, Gooch Willey and Gower all scored centuries and had respectable averages. The following winter, Australia played a drawn series against the Windies.

To me, the West Indies bowling attack of that era remains a benchmark, and I saw nothing in '05 to suggest anything other than that either team would have been skittled by Holding, Roberts, Croft, Marshall and Garner. I suspect that the '05 Aussies would have stood up the better of the two, simply because of their tendency to produce gutsy and productive performances with the bat right down the order.

David Gower may have had a disappointing Ashes series in '81, but his form would surely have returned when the '05 team rolled up.

Stephen said...

Oh and Botham and Brearley were probably the two greatest slip fielders I've seen.

Political Umpire said...

I agree that the Windies of the early 80s would have seen off even the best Australian sides of the 1990s/2000s in most conditions, the one caveat being that they would have been vulnerable against Warne on a turner eg Sydney. After all they lost there against Bob Holland, a legspinner not a hundreth the bowler Warne was. But McGrath would have been put firmly in his place.

I have seen a fair bit of the 81 series on television and to be honest I think there was a lot of mediocre cricket interspersed with periods of intense excitment. It has gone down as a great series because of the greatest comeback ever, Botham's heroics and various other bursts of genius eg Willis, but in between there was a fair bit of Tavare and Boycott stodge. The 05 series, by contrast, was like two heavyweights trying to knock each other senseless; there was hardly a dull session in the entire series - and not because there was a lot of ODI slogging either (it was as you will recall a bowler dominated series, with Australia never passing 400 and England doing so only just on a couple of occasions).

The other thing remarkable about 05 for its time was the lack of sledging and the general good spirit, epitomised by the iconic image of Flintoff and Lee at the end of Edgebaston (Ponting's pathetic outburst being the exception that proved the rule). And although they had helmets, the Australians copped a fair amout of chin music throughout and even KP was decked by Lee on that epic last afternoon. (I'm not one who considers helmets for wimps either; as a Pakistani player once said, what does it say about someone prepared to go out to bat protecting his shin but not his head?)

Of course comparing different eras even only a couple of decades apart is tricky and I am always wary of commentators who insist that it was all better in their day. Botham and Boycott (but strangely not to the same extent Willis) have that tendency, though with Beefy it is usually a matter of _he_ was better in his day rather than everyone else. After all, in 1981 the likes of Trueman and Bedser did precisely the same thing to them.

Stephen said...

You are of course right about the (unusual) lack of sledging in the 2005 series. I tend to associate that with an uncharacteristic lack of aggression from the Aussies, who I'd have expected to have won the series easily were it not for McGrath's injury.

Helmets. I wasn't intending to imply that they were only for wimps, rather that in the early 80s fast bowlers were able to rough up batsmen to a degree no longer possible.

Political Umpire said...

Yes McGrath made a great play about the fact that he didn't play in either of Australia's two defeats. And certainly England wouldn't have gotten off to a flyer on the first day at Edgebaston (which changed the momentum of the series for good) had he been playing. But on the other hand McGrath did play in the only test which Australia never had a chance of winning, namely the third test when they were saved by the rain (and still came within one wicket of defeat). Also I think England would have done much better with Thorpe rather than Bell, despite the former being past his best. Equally, however, I cannot understand why Australia kept choosing Gillespie who was hapless, or for that matter why they excluded Hussey who was scoring prolifically in county matches.

The outcome of any 1980s Windies v 2000s Australians would depend in part on the rules used. You are quite right they were stacked in the Windies' favour in their day: no minimum over rates, no bouncer restrictions and much worse protective gear