Martin Johnson column – A day can be a long time in cricket, ask Sunil

I was reading the other day an article about the use of “guided missile microtechnology” to measure the effect of fast bowlers’ workloads, which involved grappling with words like algorithm, accelerometers and magnetometers, and not only required the assistance of a Thesaurus to get through, but a phone-a-friend hotline to either a submarine commander, or lunar spacecraft pilot.

Long before getting to the end of it – no mean achievement in itself – I conjured up a picture of Fred Trueman reading it over breakfast in his copy of the Celestial Times, and responding with a coughing fit so violent that he not only bit clean through the stem of his pipe, but also showered St Peter with smouldering shards of Old Shag.

Fred, who would have been 85 next week (and some might argue that he was actually born 85), was not inclined to embrace anything which could possibly be construed as being marginally more advanced than it was in Methuselah’s day, and if I had to choose a Desert Island Discs clip from Test Match Special, it would be the time he insisted on referring to this summer’s visitors Sri Lanka by their colonial name.

“I, er, er, just don’t understand it. What’s wrong with Ceylon? Perfectly good name Ceylon. So, er, er, why, er, would you want to, er change it. I mean, er, never been there, meself, but, er, if I were going, I er, I’d ask the lass at the er, travel agent, er, I’d, er, like a return to, er, Ceylon.”

England’s ODI series against Ceylon is now under way, and what we’d give to have Fred back in the TMS box and moaning about all things modern. He never played one-day cricket for England, which was a shame, not least for the entertainment value of his reaction when his captain informed him that instead of having four slips, two gullies, and a short leg, he was getting an offside boundary sweeper and a man at cow corner.

It’s an education to look back now and remember how one-day cricket used to be played in its infancy. It began in England as a 65-overs-a-side format, first with the prototype Midland Counties Knockout Cup in 1962, and then for the inaugural Gillette Cup in 1963.

And only one of the then 17 county captains managed to recognise straight away that this new fangled nonsense – as Fred doubtless called it – required a different strategy to the three-day stuff they’d been brought up on.

That man was Ted Dexter, who captained Sussex to victory in the first two Gillette competitions after quickly cottoning onto a principle (you can almost hear the cry of “Eureka!” as Ted sat in his bath) that had never before applied to a game of cricket. Namely, that you didn’t have to get everyone out to win.

Come to that, you didn’t need to get anyone out to win.

The first ever Gillette match was between Lancashire and Leicestershire at Old Trafford on May 1 (spilling into May 2 because of the weather) with both sides sticking to more or less traditional fielding positions. Lancashire made 304-9 from their 65 overs, with Leicestershire (Fred would have been delighted that they had a genuine native of Ceylon in the team in Clive Inman) making 203 all out from 53.3 in reply.

Dickie Bird was bowled by Brian Statham for 7, and in those days no-one kept a record of how many balls it took him.

One of the things about one-day cricket in those early years, when it was still played in white clothing with red balls, was that no team selected, or even thought about selecting, specialist players. Ergo, the very same blocker who’d just emptied the County Ground, Northampton, with an eight-hour century was now required to give it a touch of the D’Artagnans in a one-day sprint. Which turned out, generally speaking, to be cricket’s equivalent of old dogs and new tricks.

Keeping these batsmen in, rather than trying to get them out, became a recognised strategy, and whether it was by accident or design, the West Indies won the 1979 World Cup final at Lord’s by failing to remove either Mike Brearley or Geoff Boycott for 38 overs. Chasing, if such a word is appropriate, 287 to win, England’s opening pair put on 129 together, but by the time the West Indies made the schoolboy error of getting Brearley out, there was too much left to do for the rest.

Mind you, compared to what happened in the first ever match in the World Cup, in the inaugural 1975 tournament, Boycott and Brearley must have come across as cavalier sloggers. In reply to England’s 334-4, India made 132-3, with Sunil Gavaskar batting right through the innings for 36 not out.

He copped a bit of flak at the time but, in his defence, there was no electronic scoreboard in those days to keep him informed of the asking rate, and if the regulations hadn’t eventually obliged him to stop batting, he’d have seen his team comfortably home in the 153rd over.

Different time, different mindset. When Leicestershire won their first 40-over title in 1974, under the captaincy of Raymond Illingworth, they had a batting policy which revolved around them being 30-0 off the first ten overs. And a final total of 160, or thereabouts, was reckoned to be a winning one more often than not.

Trent Bridge had already this season seen two 50-over scores of 400-plus before Wednesday’s ODI, which were once totals of unthinkable dimensions. And to illustrate just how much the game has changed, let me take you back to a World Cup match in 1987 between England and the West Indies.

You couldn’t imagine today’s pampered lot receiving a 3.30am alarm call for a 4.15am departure by coach from their Lahore hotel, across the kind of roads which shook all the fillings from your teeth. So perhaps it wasn’t a total surprise when Derek Pringle returned what was then an England record worst bowling ODI analysis of 0-83 off his 10 overs.

Poor old Del. It wasn’t his fault that he played in the wrong era. The way the game is heading, 0-83 off 10 will soon qualify you to blow kisses to the crowd as you leave the field to a standing ovation.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday June 24 2016

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