Usman Khawaja plays to the on side

Does my bum look big in this?

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High Fives

Debate me this

Five cricket arguments that are not going anywhere in a hurry

Jon Hotten |

The Massive Bat Incident, or I Like Big Bats and I Cannot Lie
Much of cricket's future was seeded in its earliest universe. Its distant past as a rogue's game saw betting, match-fixing and ball-tampering long before overarm bowling or the cover drive.

The Massive Bat Incident of 1771 marked the first debate over the size of cricket's key implement. In a game between Chertsey and Hambledon (effectively Surrey and Hampshire) at Laleham Burway, Chertsey's Thomas White walked to the crease with a bat carved to the width of the stumps. Hambledon's players objected, and having won the game by a single run, their fearsome fast bowler Thomas Brett wrote a letter of protest that resulted in the Law being altered to introduce a maximum bat width.

So stood the bat for the next few hundred years, a blade of 38 inches in length and 4¼ inches wide, its weight and depth unspecified and yet limited by the physical capacity of the batsman to wield it. The 1970s saw new shapes like the Jumbo, the Scoop and the V12 turn the bat into a marketable item, and then, with the dawn of T20 came its revolution as an object: reimagined as a new and lightweight weapon of war by pod-shavers who pushed the willow to its limits in its dryness and effectiveness. And yet it would mean nothing without the intent and desire of the players using it, new shots played with new style and new muscle, these effects indivisible from the impact of the bat itself.

The strange, Schrodinger's Cat-like notion of a batsman being in and out to exactly the same ball was just plain spooky

For the first time since the Massive Bat Incident, the size of the bat was reconsidered by MCC, and we will soon have a maximum depth too. The debate has been polarising, the eye and gut of the old pros - "These big bats they have now…" - challenged by the irrefutable laws of physics. The bat must slim down but it will not change new batting. The argument will rage.

Murali's Bowling Action, or The Truth About Flex
Science has slowly demystified the physical processes of cricket, at first in small increments and then with a roar of discovery. Shock No. 1: batsmen don't really "watch" the ball at all - or they only do for around 57% of its flight. The rest of the time is spent looking at the spot where the ball may land or the region it's expected to be struck. Shock No. 2: most bowlers do not keep their arm straight when delivering the ball. Instead, there is a variable but measurable degree of elbow flex in almost all of them.

Muttiah Muralitharan, son of a candy-making family from Kandy, twirled into the public consciousness when he bowled to Allan Border in a tour game back in 1992, the first sight of his action greeted with as much astonishment as the prodigious spin imparted with the unlikely whirr of shoulder, elbow and wrist. It couldn't possibly be legal, could it? Darrell Hair didn't think so, nor Ross Emerson. Science said the naked eye was wrong, and Murali, who played the game with a smile and the iron backing of Arjuna Ranatunga, even performed in a cast to prove his arm didn't straighten during the act.

The DRS: jury's out forever

The DRS: jury's out forever © Getty Images

As a bowler Murali will always divide opinion (even now, his ESPNcricinfo player profile opens with a line about his polarising effect) but his epic career made us understand better what happens when a ball is delivered, and has helped to remove the unnecessary stigma around "chucking", which had at one point meant only shame and exile. Like batsmen, bowlers change techniques. They are human. They get tired and they falter. At least now, like batsmen, they can repair that technique and begin again. This is Murali's legacy, along with a fighter's heart and a glimpse of the gloriously possible.

Will India Ever Accept the DRS, or Does Hawk-Eye Really Work?
It is cricket's sliding-doors moment, the point at which an alternative future can be not just predicted but revealed. With the use of GPS, or laser beams, or magic pixie dust or however it operates (I haven't quite got the science down), ball-tracking technology can let us know what would have happened had that pad - usually Shane Watson's - not interrupted the leather's progress. Combined with the heat-seeking Hot Spot and the all-hearing Snicko, justice for both bowler and bat can be swift and assured…

Except, can it?

The initial revelation that a batsman propping forward to spin was often plumb lbw changed batting and bowling. The use of the two-reviews-per-team system politicised and made tactical the fair implementation of the Laws. The strange, Schrödinger's cat-like notion of a batsman being both in and out to the same ball depending on the margin of the on-field umpire's original decision was just plain spooky.

Where you stand (no pun intended, although it's quite a good one) on mankading is probably generational

Technology that had been developed with the intention of entertaining those watching on TV was driving the game. It didn't, to the hardened observer, always look particularly accurate, and India to date do not use it. Other series sometimes can't afford it. Thus a two-tier system of adjudication exists, with a plethora of different equipment used around the world. Will the DRS ultimately take over? I'm calling for a review.

The Meaning of Mankading
"Mankad Again Traps Bill Brown" ran the newspaper headline describing an act that has passed into cricketing infamy.

Where you stand (no pun intended, although it's quite a good one) on mankading - the act of running out the non-striking batsman should they leave the popping crease while backing up - is probably generational. Cricket can be a place of antiquarian manners and customs, its Laws set in stone and yet mutable when subjected to what is deemed right and proper. Back in Vinoo's day, the notion of stealing singles was not the same as in the high-pressure, stats-driven environs of now - although Bradman is said to have backed Mankad's decision.

And yet the act retains its dastardly edge. In the Under-19 World Cup quarter-final last February, Keemo Paul of West Indies mankaded Zimbabwe's Richard Ngarava in the final over of the match with three runs needed. Ngarava had left his crease, his bat trailing on, rather than behind, the line. The umpires conferred, asked West Indies captain Shimron Hetmyer whether he wanted the appeal to stand, and went to the third umpire, who confirmed the dismissal. West Indies won the game and ultimately the tournament. Asked if he felt the mankad was within the fabled "spirit" of cricket, Hetmyer replied, "Probably not."

"Top o' the morning to ye, laddie" © Getty Images

Here was the perfect test case: a close mankading in the final over with a definite effect on the match result. And opinion? As divided as it's ever been, although the MCC's new attempt to clarify the Law, and to stress the advantage unfairly gained by the batsman, suggests a future in which Vinoo's name may be refracted in a new light.

Steve Waugh and Mental Disintegration, or Does the Sledge Work?
ESPNcricinfo's Jarrod Kimber once told a story about meeting Steve Waugh in a lift and, in his nervousness, cracking a lame joke. He received in return not a polite laugh but the same chilling, flint-eyed stare that had confronted Australian opposition (and occasionally errant members of his own team) for a generation.

Waugh saw the psychological hinterland of cricket as a battlefield that must be won as surely as session one on the first day of a series, and no one was better at it. As myth would have it, he was the deliverer of the greatest, most effective sledge of all time: "You just dropped the World Cup, son", to Herschelle Gibbs. He was the captain who rejected early declarations and he followed on in their most famous defeat in favour of grinding the opposition into puffs of dust. For Waugh, cricket was won in the mind before it was won on the field. Fans love the notion of this superiority being expressed verbally, either in the kind of brutal aside Waugh supposedly delivered to Gibbs, or the earthy humour of a Merv Hughes or a Shane Warne (another master of the side-of-mouth comment to an incoming batsman). Clips of stump mike conversations go up on YouTube, books of "amusing" sledges are published, after-dinner tales are told.

But does it work? The truth is, Australia won because they were a team full of legends, captained skilfully by Waugh, a rounded man with a life away from cricket. It's what great teams do, how they work. During the last few Ashes series, questions about sledging have been brushed away as irrelevant. It has become more important to the public than the participants. Waugh even confessed that he couldn't remember exactly what he had said to Gibbs (though he did eventually). And yet the myth of sledging lives on.

Jon Hotten blogs here. @theoldbatsman

 

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