Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Snot

Fergus has a cold. This isn't really news, as he usually has some sort of low level sniffling going on, but the one he's got at the moment is a really stinker. Kate keeps getting snail-trails on the shoulder of her cardigan from cuddling him. The washing machine is working overtime (and leaking, but that's a different story).

Last night (or rather, at 02.51 this morning) Fergus was very much away and coughing. At this point we took the nuclear option of bringing him into our bed, something we haven't ever done before. And there was a moment, just a moment, when I was with my beloved, both of us cuddling this wheezing little snot-ball off to sleep, there was a moment when I realised I was the happiest I had ever been, ever.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A thing I learned today

The phrase 'steel guitar' may mean a number of different things. Today I saw a pedal steel guitar for the first time. I was surprised, as it doesn't look much like a guitar. But it turns out that there are many different ways of playing 'steel guitar' and many different objects, of varying degrees of guitarishness,

That is all.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Previously...

18 December 2003

OK, this is an experiment. Maybe it will give people (friends, one would hope) an insight into what the hell I am up to, most notably in the field of Chemistry which causes me to do odd things and go to odd places.

I have a job. Not a proper one, as my mum would say, but nonetheless a real, pay you money to work here, kind of job. Huzzah. Until (and probably beyond) March 2006 I shall be looking for the OH radical all over the place. "How?", I hear you ask. Simple. I shall be responsible for the maintenance, operation and upgrade of the FAGE instrument, which uses LIF to detect OH concentrations. Which is what I was doing (kinda) in the lab in Philadelphia, but in future I shall be driving round in a truck and taking measurements in the field. Why? Well, chemically OH is very important in the atmosphere, primarily because it is responsible for breaking down pollutants via

R-H + OH -> H2O + R.

where R can be more or less anything, but in particular tends to be some hydrocarbon (i.e. natural gas, petrol, benzene, dioxins [OK, not a hydrocarbon], nitric acid [not a hydrocarbon either], HFCs and other organic pollutants). R. then reacts with other things (primarily oxygen) and ends up being broken down into mostly CO2 and H2O. This tends to be a good thing. Clearly the amount of reaction occurring depends on the amount of OH present, which is why we want to measure it.

OK, that is what I will be doing in Leeds, and around the country (maybe even the world).

Lets see how long this journal lasts, shall we?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part V of V

The Chinaman

So, we come to the end of our journey with the ball that inspired it. And this final article throws up a number of questions. What is a 'Chinaman'? Who bowls it? Why are are you telling me this?

(A Chinaman isn't this, but that is very funny, and cricket related, so you should take a look.)

'Puss' Achong was a West Indian bowler of Chinese extraction whose unremarkable career would have passed without much comment, were it not for the fact that one day he threw in an unexpected delivery to English batsman (and here I confess to resorting to Wikipedia) Walter Robins. Robins was expecting SLA (which was Achong's stock delivery) but Achong (who must have been practised this sly delivery in the nets) bowled one out of the back of his hand, in the same manner as a leg spin bowler. Since he was a left-arm bowler, the ball turned in the opposite direction to the leg break, clean bowling a flummoxed Robins. Legend suggests that looking back at his shattered stumps he uttered the immortal phrase, "Fancy being out to a bloody Chinaman!" And the sobriquet stuck.

And in essence, that's it. The Chinaman is the mirror image of the leg break. It's left arm wrist spin and it turns from off to leg, rather than leg to off (like a conventional leg break).

So who bowls it? Well, the answer is, not many people. Like Achong, Johnny Wardle (yet another brilliant Yorkshire bowler) was an SLA who opted to throw in the occasional Chinaman to bewitch his opponent. But Wardle's Test career was nothing like Achong's. Indeed, it was nothing short of brilliant. It is still a mystery to me how such a talented bowler could only have played only 28 Tests (even he was up against Laker and Lock for a spot in the team) but in those 28 he took 102 wickets at an average of only 20.39 runs per wicket. That's better than Laker, Murali, Warne and, pretty much, everyone. Wardle has a decent claim to being the best post-war spinner though SLA (and yet another Yorkshireman!) Bobby Peel's 101 wickets at 16.98 will take some beating!

In more recent times, Paul Adams (whose bowling action has been likened to a 'frog in a blender') and Brad Hogg have had modest success bowling Chinaman. (Here's are great video of Hogg bowling, which includes 'conventional' Chinaman, more than one wrong 'un (googly - note how the batsmen often fail to spot, or 'pick' the googly) and flipper). Brilliant one day batsman Michael Bevan was known to toss in the occasional over of Chinaman (men?).

Why so few? Well, like leg spin, Chinaman is hard to master. Of course, It's useful to have a googly (and despite unpopular misconception, a Chinaman's googly is called just that - a 'googly'. The Chinaman is the stock ball - the mirror image of a leg break) but the disadvantage of a stock ball that breaks towards the (right handed) batsman appears to have led the majority of left-arm spinners to opt for orthodox SLA, rather than wrist spin.

I can think of one other Chinaman bowler. And fittingly for the last word in this article and this entire series, he was the greatest cricket player of all time. Originally picked primarily as an SLA bowler, he developed into one of the greatest batsmen the world had ever seen, a top notch fielder, a left arm fast bowler of prodigious talent, and he developed a Chinaman as well. He was the great Sir Garry Sobers, and as Garry Sobers cannot be surpassed as a cricketer, it is here that we end this series.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part IV of V

Leg spin

If you want to understand leg spin, you can do worse things than buy the excellent album 'The Duckworth Lewis Method' by the band of the same name. 'Jiggery Pokery' is one of the few cricket songs I'm aware of (indeed, aside from 'Dreadlock Holiday' by 10CC and the rest of the songs on the DLM album, I can't think of any) and the only one that sets to music 'The Ball of the Century'. But more on this later.

Leg spin is a type of wrist spin. Rather than bowling the ball out of the front of the hand, imparting spin by a rapid twist of the wrist and fingers, wrist spin is delivered from the back of the hand, with the rotation of the wrist and shoulder imparting spin on the ball. Try it with a tennis or ping pong ball. Hold the ball between your fingers, palm facing in the direction you want the ball to travel. Then twist wrist rapidly and as you do so flip the fingers forward, so that the ball shoots out of the back of your hand. It probably won't go where you expected it to, but if you do it right the motion of the wrist should impact spin on the ball. And, hopefully, you won't strain anything.

So here's Terry Jenner, the mentor of a certain great legspinner, explaining how it works.

There are three big advantages to leg spin. First, the stock ball (that is the ordinary leg spin ball, the one the bowler bowls most often) turns from leg to off (the opposite way to the stock ball of the off spinner), which means it is spinning away from a right-handed batsman (in the same way as an SLA). Second, if you do it right, wrist spin imparts more spin on the ball than finger spin. So you can get more turn. (It also imparts more strain on the body - more than one leggie has had to have shoulder surgery). And third, by varying the position of the wrist at the point of delivery, it's possible to bowl a googly.

Bosanquet was an Englishman, and it's entirely possible that no Englishman, not even Grace, had more of an impact on cricket. For 'Bosie' invented the googly. He invented it experimenting with a ping-pong ball. And then he transferred it to the cricket pitch. Suddenly it was possible for a spinner to bowl a ball that turned the 'other' way. For a right-arm wrist spinner (leg spinner) this meant the ball would turn from off to leg, rather than leg to off. And if the batsman wasn't expecting the googly, he was going to end up looking like an awful chump.

Leg spin was big between the wars, when players like Faulkner, Grimmett and O'Reilly mastered Bosie's googly and tormented (mainly English) batsmen. For some reason, probably because despite all the advantages of leg spin it has one major disadvantage - it's so damm difficult to master - leg spin fell out of fashion. There is nothing worse (for a fielding captain) than a bowler bowling poor legspin. Ian Salisbury demonstrated this once or twice.

But Abdur Qadir revitalised the art in the 80s, and then Shane Warne burst onto the scene. People who'd never watched cricket in their lives would have been aware of Warne. He was the biggest thing to hit Ashes cricket since Botham. And what an arrival.

I mean, watch that again. The ball lands a long way outside leg stump and hits off! It hits off! Gatting plays a perfect forward defensive to a leg break and is clean bowled. Incredible. No wonder they call it the 'ball of the century'. It was the first ball Warne had ever bowled in Test cricket in England. That ball, and Warne's absolute mastery of the art, cast such a spell over England batsmen that for years after, even when they couldn't lose, they did.

In the end Warne ended up with 708 Test wickets. Murali got 800 (his 800th was the last wicket to fall in his last ever Test - some timing!). The debate about who was the greater bowler of the two rumbles on, but it's hard to argue with the assertion that those two were the best of all time. Then again, maybe Bill O'Reilly would have taken 800 wickets if he'd got the chance to play 145 Tests!

Final word on the subject of leg spin goes to Terry Jenner, who helped Warne develop into the bowler he became. Here Jenner explains the five different balls(!) that made up Warne's armoury.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part III of V

Slow left arm

Cricket is many many things but it isn't sexy. Well, not unless you count Botham trying, and failing, to get his leg-over. And of all the things in cricket that aren't sexy, the term 'slow left arm' is perhaps the drabbest. Even 'rain stopped play' conjures images of a mass exodus to the bar.

And yet, and yet. Slow left arm isn't boring. Or doesn't have to be. Some of the greatest bowlers ever to have played the game bowled SLA. Wilfred Rhodes took over 4200 First Class wickets bowling left-arm spin. These days 50 wickets in a First Class season is considered an excellent achievement, which suggests that a decent bowler would have to hold down a spot in country cricket for 80 years or so to match Rhodes' tally. Clearly, it's a record that will never be broken. And after Rhodes (for both England and Yorkshire) came Hedley Verity. If Bradman was the greatest batsman of all time (and he was) then Verity, who Bradman rated as the best he had ever faced, the only bowler that Bradman felt he had never entirely sussed, might have some claim to be the best bowler ever, certainly the best of his generation. Killed in WWII, the history of the 'Invincible' Australian tour of 1948 might have been different if Verity had still been around.

The physics of it is simple enough. Your left hand is a non-superimposable mirror image of your right. Therefore if you bowl finger spin, in exactly the same way as you bowl off spin, but with your left hand, the ball will rotate in the opposite direction when it leaves your hand, and when it pitches it will spin the other way. And for some reason, this style of bowling is known as slow left arm orthodox. Or SLA for short.

This method of attack is considered to have more potential than off spin as, to a right-handed batsman the ball is now turning away from him (from leg to off). As the ball spins away he may mis-control his shot and end up stumped or caught. Despite the fact that there have been very few left-arm fast bowlers of note over the last few decades (Vaas, Zaheer and Ilott are the only ones who spring immediately to mind) there have been stacks and stacks of slow lefties, probably because they were coach to bowl that way and exploit the (perceived) weakness of right-handed batsmen to the ball turning away.

Worthy of particular comment are Monty Panesar, who broke through into the England side recently but has now fallen away somewhat, the great 'Deadly' Derek Underwood, who is up there with Laker and Verity as the greatest ever English spinner, and Bishan Bedi.

In many teams, the spin bowler is there as a fall back. Defence to the fast-bowlers offence. A guy the captain can turn to when he wants to give his quicks a break, or stem the flow of runs from a batsman making hay. Many SLAs bowl (or are told to bowl) a negative, containing line. "Just don't get hit" seems to be the refrain. Panesar seemed to be suffering from a lack of variety and invention which eventually led to him being dropped by England. But in India spinners have always been seen as wicket takers, and none were more so than Bedi. The reaction of most spinners to being hit to the boundary is to bowl the next ball quicker, and fuller. A fast defensive dart unlikely to get a wicket, but are harder to hit for four. Bedi would bowl slower, loopier, shorter. Taunting and teasing the batsman. "Go on. Try that again!", his bowling said. It must have worked. Bedi took over 250 Test wickets at an average of less than 30.

And so, to the King of Spain. Never the most threatening of bowlers, the sight of him bowling a negative line (basically landing the ball outside leg-stump every time, making it very difficult for the batsman to score any runs, but also virtually impossible for Giles to take a wicket) to contain the great Sachin Tendulkar was not something that would set any pulses racing. But in 2005, in Old Trafford, he produced a classic example of SLA bowling (pay close attention to the commentary by Richie) to dismiss Damien Martyn. The remarkable thing here is that Martyn tries to defend the ball in exactly the right way (we will see another example of this later) and is completely flummoxed when it hits his off-stump. What a ball!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part II of V

Off spin

Off spin is bowled by a right-handed bowler, holding the ball between index, middle and ring finger, with the wrist rotated (rapidly) clockwise at the point of delivery. Spin is imparted by the fingers, which is why this type of delivery is known as 'finger spin'. I've also heard finger spin (bowled from either hand) described as orthodox, which I assume is because finger spin was the first type of spin bowling discovered.

Off spin causes the ball (from the bowler's perspective) to spin from left to right upon bouncing (pitching). From a right-handed batsman's perspective, the ball spins from the side of the wicket his bat is held towards (the offside) towards his legs. In cricket parlance, off spin (to a right-handed batsman) spins from off to leg.

It tends to be easier for a batsman to play a ball that is spinning in to him rather than away from him. I guess this is because it is easier to play with the bat close to the body than play away from the body, upsetting your balance. For whatever reason, playing off spin is considered easier (at least if you bat right-handed, as the majority of players do), and therefore off spin is somewhat dull and unfancied. There have been few really successful offspinners in the last 50 years. True, the most successful spinner of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan, who only retired last year, was an offspinner. But Murali possessed extraordinary physical attributes (something to do with hyper-flexible joints) that enabled him to impart tremendous spin in both directions. Orthodox he was not. Your averagely flexible offspinner hasn't had much of a chance. That said, there have been a few very successful post-war off-spinners, of whom Lance Gibbs, Hugh Tayfield and Saqlain Mushtaq spring to mind.

Saqlain is of critical importance, as he is credited with inventing the doosra. Before Saqlain it was widely reckoned that an off-spinner could make the ball turn from off to leg, or make it go straight (the 'arm ball') and through subtle variations in flight, spin and pace vary the trajectory of the ball such that the batsman never quite knew what it would do, but is was impossible for an off spinner to make the ball spin from leg to off. Then Saqlain started bowling the doosra (literally 'the other one') and the world of the offspinner changed for good.

The doosra is controversial because a) no Englishman (or Australian) has yet managed to bowl it properly and b) many believe it is not possible to deliver a doosra without 'chucking', that is bowling with a bent elbow that straightens as you release the ball. Chucking is big no-no, but is hard to spot when a chap is bowling 50mph plus.

Let us put the doosra controversy to one side, and anchor ourselves firmly in the present day. For, after what seems like forever*, England have unearthed an off spin bowler of genuine, match-winning, Aussie-snaring, talent. Graeme Swann. Enough words, here he is delivering the classic off spin ball to dismiss one of the greatest batsmen of modern times. You won't see a better example of off spin than that.

Tomorrow - More finger spin! Left-handed!!

* whereas it has only been half a century, since the great, perhaps greatest off-spinner of all time, the only man to take 19 wickets in a single Test match, played his last Test in 1959

Monday, 3 October 2011

Can you tell your left from your right? Part I of V

Inspired by a posting that was made elsewhere I thought it time to go back to basics. It amazes me that there are still people out there to whom phrases like 'finger-spin', 'didn't pick the googly' and 'pitched outside leg' mean nothing. That some of these people live in Test cricket playing nations is nothing short of scandalous.

So. Spin bowling.

Hold your hand (either one will do) palm up in front of you. You can rotate your wrist (I hope) in two directions, clockwise and anticlockwise. If you were to throw a ping pong ball at a table, while rapidly rotating your wrist, you would impact spin on the ball, and when it hit the table, it would deviate from straight. (This is no idle experiment - Bosie invented the googly while doing this exact thing, but more on this in Part IV). If you were to rotate your wrist in the opposite direction while releasing the ball, if would spin in the opposite direction (in theory). Given that you can twist your wrist either clockwise or anticlockwise, and that you can bowl, in theory, with either your left or right hand, I hope you can believe me when I say that there are 4 different ways of bowling 'spin'.

(I ask for Iverson and Mendis to excuse me. I'm not going to get into the Carom ball)

Sadly, I'm not going to teach you how to bowl. If you want to do that you really need to consult someone who can actually play cricket. All I can promise is that by the end of this little series of articles you will understand the differences between off-spin, slow-left arm, leg-spin and chinaman, hopefully illustrated by videos of some all time greats, and the King of Spain.

Tomorrow (ish). Part II - Off-spin!