Friday, 30 July 2010

'The more the pressure, the stronger I got' - Imran Khan


The charismatic former Pakistan captain on wanting to be fast, teaching Wasim and Waqar to bowl, the allrounder wars of the 1980s, ball-tampering, and more

Interview by Sam Collins

July 30, 2010

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Imran Khan is Pakistan's most famous player and most successful captain. As smooth off the field as he was competitive on it, he made his Test debut as an 18-year-old medium-pacer, transforming himself into a genuinely quick opening bowler and formidable batsman. He led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, after which he entered Pakistani politics.

Imran Khan portrait, April 28, 1987
''I'd been determined to be a Test cricketer since I was nine and there was never any chance that I would give up" © PA Photos
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Teams: Pakistan

Was it inevitable that you would become a cricketer?
My two cousins were Test captains. One, Majid Khan, became Test captain while I was playing. One was an Oxford Blue [Javed Burki] and one a Cambridge Blue [Majid]. If you're living up to people who have made it big, you face more pressure than ordinary cricketers. Doors open easier but you're always judged against them. I was always told that I had less talent than them.

You made your Test debut in England aged 18. What happened?
I had always had ambitions as a batsman but I was selected as a fast bowler because Pakistan hardly had any. I'd played very few first-class matches, and while in home conditions my slingy action was effective, in England I was totally at sea. I was dropped after that first Test and my team-mates openly told me I'd never get back into the team. But I'd been determined to be a Test cricketer since I was nine and there was never any chance, no matter how many setbacks I faced, that I would give up.

What turned you into a quick bowler?
In 1972, Australia came to England. I watched Dennis Lillee bowl and that's when I decided I wanted to be fast. It was the first time I'd seen a genuine fast bowler. Pakistan didn't have any, and I just loved it. It appealed to my instincts, my aggressive way of playing. I was a medium-pacer then and Worcester would encourage me to bowl that because I had a natural inswinger. But I was never satisfied, so if I ever got hit, I would try and bowl faster. That's how I got this aggressive streak, to seek revenge when a batsman tried to dominate, that made me into a fast bowler. I understood the limitations of how I used to bowl, so I completely restructured my bowling action between the ages of 18 and 25. I spent the winter after I finished at Oxford University [1975-76] in Pakistan, and that was really the turning point, because on those wickets you needed to have air speed. My first-class team [Pakistan International Airlines] encouraged me to bowl fast. In a year I'd gained pace and was genuinely fast.

You came third behind Jeff Thomson and Michael Holding at the famous speed test in Perth in 1978...
We were bowling bouncers and Jeff Thomson was bowling full-tosses, so there was a slight distortion, although he was probably still quicker. Out of eight balls I bowled, seven were quicker than Holding. I wasn't even at my peak - I was quicker in the next two years. In my peak I got nearly 100 wickets in about a year, 40 in a series against India, but I did my shin bone and missed three of my best years as a bowler.

What are your memories of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket?
It was the highest standard I've played. It was the greatest number of fast bowlers ever concentrated in one place - very high-calibre fast bowling. There were people like Tony Greig, Lawrence Rowe, Roy Fredericks, who were outstanding batsmen, but all three of them sank under the barrage of quick bowlers.

Did captaincy improve you as a player?
The more pressure I took, the stronger I got.

Teams follow captains they believe in. I used to tell them: "Do not be scared of losing, you'll never know how to win." I discovered why I was successful and others who were more talented than me weren't. My whole policy was aggressive: how am I going to win? Most who captained me used to enter a match thinking we should not lose. The result was that team selection became defensive. It's a big difference in strategy and attitude. I took this fear of losing away from them and that's why we used to pull off incredible victories from losing positions. We played superior opposition and did very well. You become fearless and that is a very important component in successful people, organisations, even countries.


"Waqar was a very strong bowler, not as gifted as Wasim but much stronger physically. Mentally Waqar was very tough. Wasim would give up a little bit when things got down; Waqar would keep coming back"

Did you find it difficult being a bowling captain?
Batting captains never had a clue about bowlers. Most captaincy is done on the field. As a bowler I was far better equipped to deal with that than batting captains. The only batting captain I rated was Ian Chappell. He had a very good cricket mind and could deal with bowlers well. Apart from him, very few were good because they didn't understand bowlers. Because I was a bowling captain, I taught Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis from scratch. They had hardly played any first-class cricket and I would tell them what to do every ball because I had been through the process myself. I would set their fields and I would tell them what to think.

What were the raw ingredients that you saw in Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis?
Wasim was the most talented bowler I have seen apart from Holding. A natural. But he needed the art of taking wickets, fitness and advice, which I gave him. Waqar was a very strong bowler, not as gifted as Wasim, but much stronger physically. Mentally, Waqar was very tough. Wasim would give up a little bit when things got down; Waqar would keep coming back. But Wasim was much more talented.

How do you compare with the three other great allrounders from the 1970s and 80s: Botham, Hadlee, Kapil Dev?
We were all great competitors. I had my duels with all three. Botham was a better batsman than all of them, Hadlee was a better bowler than the others, and Kapil Dev, at one point, had great batting potential but never developed it. It's not easy at that level to keep developing both skills.

Ian Botham peaked very early. I think he was already on the downer at 26 or 27 because he had become very big. He started off as an allrounder of more promise than all of us because he had a great side-on bowling action and outswing. But by his late 20s his bowling was no longer effective. And batting-wise, the reason I don't think he fulfilled his potential is his performance against West Indies. I judge batsmen on their performance against the big boys and in critical situations. In that sense, Botham's performance against West Indies was just appalling - averaging about 14 with the bat and around 40 with the ball [in fact, 21 and 35].

Your bowling average was 21 against West Indies, the dominant team of the era. Did you raise your game against them?
The tougher the competition, the better it got out of me. Sometimes I used to lose motivation against the smaller teams. The lure of beating West Indies in the West Indies was the main reason I came out of retirement [in 1988]. We drew 1-1 but with neutral umpires we would have won 2-0 and I would have retired then because it was my ambition to beat the ultimate team in world cricket. I'm the only captain that never lost to West Indies in three series, all drawn.

They tested you completely. It demanded the greatest concentration, guts and a proper technique to face them. The batting was great too. Viv Richards was head and shoulders above everyone else. A genius. It was his reflexes, his timing, lightning footwork and his attitude. He was very courageous - a batsman who would take on challenges. His statistical record does not reflect his ability or the number of match-winning innings he played. He used to get bored, whereas other batsmen would bat for their averages.

What are your memories of the 1992 World Cup?
Great euphoria. I handpicked that young team and for them to win the World Cup from that impossible situation was a source of such happiness to the Pakistanis. I was so proud of that team. When I retired, I left the best Pakistan team in its history. I was very disappointed that it never achieved its potential. Match-fixing allegations dogged them.

Imran Khan bowls in the nets ahead of the Lord's Test, August 11, 1982
"If I ever got hit, I would try and bowl faster" © PA Photos

Do you regret admitting to using a bottle top during the 1981 county season?
I regret that it distorted the whole discussion on ball-tampering; it took it to another level. I was trying to explain that ball-tampering had always been part of cricket. It was only when you crossed a certain limit that it became cheating. He [journalist Ivo Tennant] asked me point blank and I said, "Yes". I'd played a match at Sussex against Hampshire. It was a dead wicket, petering towards a draw. We had drinks and there was a bottle top. I scratched the ball trying to get resistance on the other side. I said: "That is cheating, you've crossed the line." I was illustrating the point. Then other people jumped in, people trying to settle scores, people taking money from tabloids to say: "I saw Imran ball-tampering". They were such liars and they made money. In that sense, I regretted it.

There must have been times when the pressure got to you, leading Pakistan for 10 years?
Cricket is the only captaincy in sport where you face pressure. In Pakistan the pressure is more than in other places because when the team loses, the captain's head comes on the chopping block, otherwise the board is removed. There were about 17 changes in the 10-12 years after I left. When I came in, there was a players' revolt against the captain and I was the compromise. In my 10 years I never had a problem. I had the complete respect of the team.

How did cricket prepare you for politics?
Politics is cut-throat. I find myself far better equipped than my colleagues because I learnt to compete and take knocks from sport. There is no better preparation for politics. It is the ultimate in character-building. Being a political leader is like being a cricket captain. You walk out to a stadium full of people, all responsibility on you, and if you can learn to take that responsibility, it equips you to do anything in life.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Shirtfront strategies - Bowling on dead pitches


What do you do when the curator has it in for bowlers? You plan, persevere and pray

Aakash Chopra

July 29, 2010

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Zaheer Khan dealt Bangladesh the first blow, Bangladesh v India, 1st Test, Chittagong, 2nd day, January 18, 2010
Zaheer Khan: adept at bowling on dead pitches © Associated Press
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Players/Officials: Zaheer Khan | Lasith Malinga | Daniel Vettori

The tracks laid out for the first two Test matches in the ongoing Sri Lanka-India series have pretty much dictated the course of the matches. The Sri Lankan tracks, like most in the subcontinent, are batting havens - classic "win-the-toss-bat-first" surfaces, which in most cases push the team losing the toss into playing catch up for the duration of the match.

On these featherbeds the ball refuses to change its path after pitching, for spinners and fast bowlers alike, and the odds are stacked heavily against the bowlers and the fielding side. Yet there's a job to be done - to dismiss the opposition, failing which you need to brace yourself for a dreadfully long haul. Nothing hurts a player more than the feeling of helplessness against the inevitable, which in this case is the declaration from the batting side.

Does this mean one resigns to fate and does not plan at all? Definitely not. In fact, bowling on such tracks might need more planning than on helpful surfaces. But planning alone is often not enough; it needs to be complemented with lots of perseverance.

Fast bowlers with the new ball
A fast bowler's planning depends on the ball being used in the match. If the match is in India, it is the SG Test ball that is used, which of course behaves quite differently to the Kookaburra.

The SG ball moves negligibly in the air while it's new, and so it's important to hit the deck hard till one side gets rough. You often see Zaheer Khan bowl cross-seam deliveries right at the beginning of a spell to hasten this process. And I vividly remember Glenn McGrath employing similar tactics in the 2004 series in India.

Unless the team has three seamers at their disposal, it isn't a bad idea to hold back the two frontline quicks till one side of the ball loses its sheen. A part-time quick or a spinner comes handy in these conditions. This was the job Angelo Mathews did for Sri Lanka in India last year.

Once the ball starts swinging, releasing it right, instead of hitting the deck hard, becomes the mantra. The track might not offer lateral movement but the ball will likely swing in the air, if delivered properly. Since the swing in the air may not be complemented by movement off the surface, field placements may still need to be a little conservative. The bowlers must stick to a line, set their fields accordingly and err only on the side of fullness, for balls pitched short won't even move in the air.

Bowlers must employ different tactics while bowling with the Kookaburra, which, unlike the SG ball, moves appreciably when it's new. Hence the endeavour should be to release the ball properly, pitch it slightly fuller and extract movement in the air. Smart bowlers use the more pronounced seam to bowl cutters too.

Lasith Malinga did something remarkable in the first Test match, in Galle. He bowled fuller to start with, dismissed Gautam Gambhir cheaply in both innings, and then used the hardness of the ball to push Virender Sehwag on to the back foot with a barrage of well-directed bouncers when he saw there wasn't much swing on offer. He knew that once the ball lost its hardness, he would have to wait for it to start reverse-swinging to inflict damage. The trick is to assess the conditions quickly and then react appropriately, be it the SG Test or the Kookaburra ball.

Fast bowlers when the ball gets old
The brand of ball makes very little difference in the approach when the ball gets old, when there isn't much conventional swing, no movement off the surface, and it's too early to get reverse swing going. That's when discipline and patience take centre stage.


The brand of ball makes very little difference in the approach when the ball gets old, when there isn't much conventional swing, no movement off the surface, and it's too early to get reverse swing going. That's when discipline and patience take centre stage

Zaheer is a master operator in these situations, especially in post-lunch sessions in the subcontinent. He bowls at about 70% of his optimum speed, sticks to a line a foot outside off stump, employs a 6-3 or 7-2 off-side field and waits for the batsman to commit hara-kiri. He has the advantage of the natural angle working for him, taking the ball away from the right-hander even when it isn't swinging.

Another tactic, if executed well, is to accept that there isn't enough movement to find the outside edge, and that even if you do, it's unlikely to carry to the slips. Then one must bowl wicket to wicket, keep the catching fielders in front of the stumps and hope to either breach the defence or expect the batsman to get carried away and hit in the air. You need to be persistent rather than imaginative to see through such phases. But consistency in line and length is imperative, else you'll be punished, for the margin of error is really small. The only thing you must constantly vary is the pace. Rolling your fingers over the ball to bowl slower ones and cutters are among the few ways to create doubt in the batsman's mind in these conditions.

Another tactic is to get two fast bowlers to bowl bouncers in tandem from around the stumps, with both fine leg and square leg on the fence. Since there's nothing happening otherwise, there's no harm in trying something different.

Once the ball starts reverse-swinging, good quick bowlers come into their own. One is still required to stick to a line (you don't want to bowl on both sides of the wicket) but lengths can, and perhaps must, vary with almost every delivery. The last thing you, as a bowler, want when the ball is reverse-swinging is to be predictable. Even a toe-crushing yorker doesn't have the same effect if every ball is in the block-hole.

Once again, Malinga used the old ball quite effectively in the first Test match to break the back of the Indian batting line-up, dismissing Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni. Michael Kasprowicz did something similar in the series against India in 2004. He was so ruthless with his lines around the middle and leg stumps that he could do without a slip or a gully fielder.

While talking about masters with the old ball, it would be criminal not to mention Waqar and Wasim. But these two were special bowlers with special skills and others can only dream of emulating them. Don't they say: planning and plotting is for lesser mortals; geniuses carve their own road.

Slow bowlers are your workhorses on dead surfaces, for good captains rarely give their fast bowlers long spells. Spinners are required to do the donkey's work of bowling extremely long spells with or, mostly, without any assistance from the surface. They need strategies too, but unlike for their quicker counterparts, their plans don't vary from Kookaburra to SG Test, for balls don't behave radically differently depending on their brand when in the hands of a spinner.

Daniel Vettori gets Simon Katich, his first wicket in his 100th Test, New Zealand v Australia, 2nd Test, Hamilton, 1st day, March 27, 2010
Vettori: chokes off the scoring and waits for mistakes © Getty Images

Length is not negotiable: they must stick to it for as long as they are bowling or pay for it dearly. The lines and the pace, though, must keep changing, along with the introduction of variations like the doosra, googly or the arm ball.

The lack of purchase from the surface, unless you're a Murali or Warne, might make a spinner monotonous, and that's what they must guard against. They must keep using the drift, experiment with angles by coming over and around the stumps, and use fielders cleverly to play with the batsman's mind. There may be nothing happening but the batsman must always get the impression that there's a plan in place. And the most likely way for a spinner to get a wicket on these surfaces is to put pressure on the batsman by making run-scoring difficult and thus making him commit a faux pas.

I really like how Daniel Vettori operates on good surfaces against quality players of spin bowling. He tries to block their working areas - i.e. behind square leg for a left-hander and point for a right-hander - by altering his line and length and placing a fielder to cut off the single. By doing so he challenges the batsman to do something different, like go over the top or play against the spin. He may not always be successful, though he mostly is, but his intentions are absolutely right.

In batting-friendly conditions it helps to have a multi-dimensional attack: a couple of attacking bowlers who're expected to go for wickets, though they might be a little expensive in the bargain, along with a couple of defensive bowlers who'll stem the flow of runs and also give their more aggressive counterparts some respite.

Ideally one would always have tracks like the ones England dished out for the recently concluded Pakistan-Australia Test series, which had enough in them to keep the bowlers interested. But expecting them from curators in the subcontinent would be a bit too optimistic. While I have written about how a bowler can plan, it's still a bloody tough job to be a bowler in the subcontinent. Unless we make a conscious effort to prepare sporting wickets, it may well cut a few careers short, either due to injury or lack of results. To those who're still standing and delivering in these inhuman conditions: take a bow!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

How to beat depression – without drugs


Beating depression – without drugs
Up to 20% of the UK population will suffer from depression – twice as many as 30 years ago, says Steve Ilardi. Photograph: Rob Lewine/Getty/Tetra

Dr Steve Ilardi is slim and enthusiastic, with intense eyes. The clinical psychologist is 4,400 miles away, in Kansas, and we are chatting about his new book via Skype, the online videophone service. "I've spent a lot of time pondering Skype," he says. "On the one hand it provides a degree of social connectedness. On the other, you're still essentially by yourself." But, he concludes, "a large part of the human cortex is devoted to the processing of visual information, so I guess Skype is less alienating than voice calls."

Social connectedness is important to Ilardi. In The Depression Cure, he argues that the brain mistakenly interprets the pain of depression as an infection. Thinking that isolation is needed, it sends messages to the sufferer to "crawl into a hole and wait for it all to go away". This can be disastrous because what depressed people really need is the opposite: more human contact.

Which is why social connectedness forms one-sixth of his "lifestyle based" cure for depression. The other five elements are meaningful activity (to prevent "ruminating" on negative thoughts); regular exercise; a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids; daily exposure to sunlight; and good quality, restorative sleep.

The programme has one glaring omission: anti-depressant medication. Because according to Ilardi, the drugs simply don't work. "Meds have only around a 50% success rate," he says. "Moreover, of the people who do improve, half experience a relapse. This lowers the recovery rate to only 25%. To make matters worse, the side effects often include emotional numbing, sexual dysfunction and weight gain."

As a respected clinical psychologist and university professor, Ilardi's views are hard to dismiss. A research team at his workplace, the University of Kansas, has been testing his system – known as TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Change) – in clinical trials. The preliminary results show, he says, that every patient who put the full programme into practice got better.
Ilardi is convinced that the medical profession's readiness to prescribe anti-depression medication is obscuring an important debate. Up to 20% of the UK population will have clinical depression at some point, he says – twice as many as 30 years ago. Where has this depression epidemic come from?

The answer, he suggests, lies in our lifestyle. "Our standard of living is better now than ever before, but technological progress comes with a dark underbelly. Human beings were not designed for this poorly nourished, sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially isolated, frenzied pace of life. So depression continues its relentless march."

Our environment may have evolved rapidly but our physical evolution hasn't kept up. "Our genome hasn't moved on since 12,000 years ago, when everyone on the planet were hunter- gatherers," he says. "Biologically, we still have Stone Age bodies. And when Stone Age body meets modern environment, the health consequences can be disastrous."

To counteract this Ilardi focuses on the aspects of a primitive lifestyle that militate against depression. "Hunter- gatherer tribes still exist today in some parts of the world," he says, "and their level of depression is almost zero. The reasons? They're too busy to sit around brooding. They get lots of physical activity and sunlight. Their diet is rich in omega-3, their level of social connection is extraordinary, and they regularly have as much as 10 hours of sleep." Ten hours? "We need eight. At the moment we average 6.7."

So we should all burn our possessions and head out into the forest? "Of course not," Iladi shudders. "That would be like a lifelong camping trip with 30 close relatives for company. Nobody would recommend that."

Instead we can adapt our modern lifestyle to match our genome by harnessing modern technology, such as fish oil supplements to increase our intake of omega-3. All well and good. But I can't escape the feeling that the six-step programme seems like common sense. Isn't it obvious that more sleep, exercise and social connectedness are good for you?
"The devil is in the detail," replies Ilardi. "People need to know how much sunlight is most effective, and at which time of day. And taking supplements, for example, is a complex business. You need anti-oxidants to ensure that the fish oil is effective, as well as a multivitamin. Without someone spelling it out, most people would never do it." Ilardi practises the programme himself. He's never been depressed, he tells me, but it increases his sense of wellbeing and reduces his absentmindedness (his college nickname was "Spaced").
It all makes sense, but will I try it myself? I don't suffer from depression, but wellbeing sounds nice. I'm not so sure about the fish oil, but I might just give it a go.

Enjoy the sunshine, get plenty of sleep – and be sociable

▶ Take 1,500mg of omega-3 daily (in the form of fish oil capsules), with a multivitamin and 500mg vitamin C.▶ Don't dwell on negative thoughts – instead of ruminating start an activity; even conversation counts.
▶ Exercise for 90 minutes a week.
▶ Get 15-30 minutes of sunlight each morning in the summer. In the winter, consider using a lightbox.
▶ Be sociable.
▶ Get eight hours of sleep

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Monday, 19 July 2010

Sending Off the Ref

View From UK

The government's disastrous new deregulation programme means that the poor will be fouled by the rich. It will be forced to re-regulate, but not before large numbers of people have been hurt.
George Monbiot
Twelve bookings and one dismissal: the World Cup final wasn't pretty. Both sides argued with the referee, but no one was stupid enough to believe that the match would have been a fairer or a better one without him. Yet we have been asked to imagine that the outcome of the power struggle between corporations and the public would be fairer and better if there were no referee.
The referee is government. It is always biased and often bought, but in principle in a democratic society it exists to prevent us from being fouled. More precisely, it is supposed to prevent those who have agency – the rich and powerful – from planting their studs in the chests of those who don't. When the government walks away from the game the rich can foul the poor with impunity. Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading. It is unsurprising that all conservative parties claim to hate big government.
This one has just lit its long-promised bonfire of regulations. The Conservatives claim that deregulation will save money and relieve business of unnecessary burdens. But the government's new policies go far beyond simplifying a cumbersome bureaucracy.
Last week the health secretary Andrew Lansley sought to shift responsibility for improving diets and preventing obesity from the state to society. He blamed the problem on low self-esteem and deplored what he called "a witch hunt against saturated fats, salt and sugars"(1). In future poor diets would be countered by "social responsibility, not state regulation." From now on, he announced, communities will be left to find their own solutions. The companies which make their money from selling junk food and alcohol will be put in charge of ensuring that people consume less of them. I hope you have spotted the problem.
This is care in the community for public health, whose outcomes will be similar to those of the previous Tory government's care in the community for mental health. Volunteers have neither the power nor the motivation to fight slick, well-financed PR professionals working for big business.
Lansley would do well to read the analysis published by the Government Office for Science. "For an increasing number of people, weight gain is the inevitable – and largely involuntary – consequence of exposure to a modern lifestyle. This is not to dismiss personal responsibility altogether, but to highlight a reality: that the forces that drive obesity are, for many people, overwhelming."(2) Advances in neurobiology, it argues, show that the hunger drive is far stronger than "satiety cues" (knowing we've eaten enough), and easily exploited by advances in taste technologies and presentation.
The same study points out that obesity rates are much higher among the poor than the rich; that they are likely to double between now and 2050(3), and that, by then, the problem will cost the NHS £10bn a year at today's prices, and the economy £50bn. This was all before the food companies were let off the leash. So much for deregulation saving money.
Lansley's assault on public health is just one skirmish in the Tories' new war on regulation. The government has now set up a task force to deregulate the farming industry(4). Farming is the major cause of the loss of biodiversity in the UK. It is one of the two top causes of water pollution. It has the highest rates of death and injury of any industry in this country(5). Now the industry has been asked to police itself.
The chair of the task force is the former director general of the National Farmers' Union. His deputy is a senior NFU official. The rest of the task force is composed of another farmer, three corporate executives, a county council official and … well this is where it gets interesting. The eighth member, the government tells us, is "a Nuffield Scholar who has been involved with developing an animal welfare scheme"(6). In reality he is yet another farmer, who supplies milk to Sainsbury's. This selective citation suggests dishonesty on the part of Caroline Spelman's food and farming department. The last member is the head of public affairs at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. This group purports to protect wildlife, but it runs fox snaring courses(7) and gives advice on setting spring traps to catch smaller predators(8). There is no one on the task force representing rural workers, and no one outside the industry seeking to defend the landscape or the wider environment, water quality or animal welfare.
Private Eye reveals this week that the government may scrap property developers' obligations to provide social housing(9). This won't save money or streamline the state, but it will allow developers to create enclaves for the rich and ghettos for the poor, ensuring that the UK becomes an even more divided society. The department for transport tells me that it will be discouraging local authorities from erecting speed cameras(10). The department's own studies show that deaths and injuries are reduced by 42% where cameras are deployed(11). This, among more obvious benefits, saves the NHS and the emergency services a packet. Again the poor will be hurt most: pedestrians in the poorest areas are three times more likely to be killed or injured by cars than pedestrians in the richest areas(12). Drivers will instead be urged to regulate themselves: the department tells me that it wants councils to use "more publicity campaigns" instead.
As the economist Willem Buiter observed, "self-regulation is to regulation as self-importance is to importance."(13) The financial crisis was caused by government expectations that the banks could police themselves. That provoked the state spending crisis, which the government is now using as an excuse to administer more of the poison which started it.
The difference in approach between this government and the last is quantitative. New Labour capitulated to the corporations across all the industries I have mentioned here, but it didn't go as fast or as far. The Tories can carry off this coup partly because the opposition has squandered the moral authority required to fight it. Hearing Andy Burnham criticising Andrew Lansley for deregulating the health sector is a bit like watching the Dutch side going into conniptions about a Spanish foul: they might have been right, but by that stage in the game it wasn't a credible protest.
So here's what's going to happen. The failure of big business to police itself will cause a series of crises: in public health, social provision, quality of life, the environment. The state will have to shell out billions to put them right. Eventually (think of BSE, the railways, tobacco advertising) the government will be forced to re-regulate, but not before large numbers of people have been hurt. In the meantime we'll be instructed to pull our socks up and take responsibility for issues out of our control. It's an age-old story from which governments learn the square root of nothing. It happens as predictably as a punch-up when the referee quits the pitch.

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Thursday, 15 July 2010

Running Between Wickets


Whose call is it anyway?

Backing up, calling right, rotating the strike, stealing singles, and avoiding run-outs: running between wickets is a skill in its own right

Aakash Chopra

July 15, 2010

Dean Jones plays for Derbyshire, April 26, 1996
Dean Jones: revolutionised running between the wickets © PA Photos
Related Links

When Herschelle Gibbs dropped a catch off Steve Waugh in the 1999 World Cup Super Sixes match, it felt like he had dropped the cup. In fact, Waugh apparently said as much to Gibbs. The slip-up cost South Africa the game, but it was another error that sealed their fate. A horrible mix-up between Lance Klusener and Alan Donald, while attempting the run to win the semi-final, led to Australia's entry into the final.

Running between the wickets has been a part of cricket since the game's inception. Yet, for a long time it was considered a mediocre player's way of getting the scoreboard to tick along, for good batsmen found the fence easily. Not enough importance was given to this aspect of the game till the shorter version made its presence felt. Unlike five-day cricket, in the limited-overs game, captains don't employ attacking fields throughout the day, so taking singles to rotate strike is almost mandatory to keep the scoreboard moving. So much so that a number of one-day specialists built their games around taking singles: Michael Bevan, Ajay Jadeja, Robin Singh, to name a few. These were extremely fit men, who took sadistic pleasure in testing the fitness levels of the opposition.

I first learned about the importance of this facet of the game by watching Dean Jones. There may have been others before him who were really good at it, but to my young, impressionable mind, it was Jones who revolutionised running between the wickets. For me, he ticked all the boxes one must to be an efficient runner. That's when I realised that running between the wickets is as much an art as it is a skill.

Backing up
Contrary to popular belief, running between the wickets starts at the non-striker's end. Of course, the striker knows best how hard and how far from the fielder he has hit the ball, and being in motion already, he finds it easy to make a move. While the striker knows, the non-striker assumes, and tries to make up for the lack of information by taking a start to gain momentum.

The ideal time for the non-striker to start moving is after the bowler lands his back foot in his bowling stride. After which he should back up only to the point from where he can return easily if required. The bat should always be held in the hand closest to the bowler.

As a kid, I was taught that the striker must call when he has hit the ball in front of the stumps. Everything hit behind the stumps was considered the non-striker's call; the reason being, the non-striker has a good view of a ball hit behind the stumps.

Unfortunately, this is as wrong as it can possibly get. It's natural for the batsman to look in the direction of the shot he has played, and hence he is in a better position to know the angles. So, even if the ball goes behind the striker, it's his call. The non-striker rarely has accurate information. From his vantage point, he can never be certain if the ball is going slightly to the left or right of the fielder or straight to him. The striker knows how much power he put behind the shot, the angles involved, and the realistic chance of rotating strike.

But there are moments when the striker can't see the ball at all: when the ball goes to the wicketkeeper and he fumbles, or when the ball hits the striker's pads and he isn't sure where it went. That's when the non-striker must chip in. Also, the non-striker has the right to say no.

Virender Sehwag is the ideal non-striker in this scenario. He's always looking for cheeky singles. He believes that if the keeper has to dive to the side, it's an opportunity to cross over, since the keeper will need time to get up, remove his gloves and throw.


Speed is overrated in running between the wickets. It's more about your awareness and judgement with regards to the power with which you hit the ball and the ability of the fielder

Turning and sliding
Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but lots of batsmen don't following the rule when turning for a second or third run. Surprisingly, Jonty Rhodes was among these players. Instead of touching down and turning on the spot, he would go around in a small arc at the end. But then he had the speed to make up for it.

If you're not as quick as him, you're better off making a tight turn. And while turning for the second or third run, keep an eye on the ball and make sure you switch the bat from one hand to the other to do this effectively if you need to. A matter of seconds can be the difference between a good run and a run-out. Turning blindly costs you those micro-seconds and it might also cost you your wicket.

Jones impressed me with the way he ran only as much as he absolutely needed to. He would hold the bat high on the handle so as to use its length to the optimum, and while turning, he would stay low and stretch fully. While staying low helped him generate the necessary thrust to turn quickly and gain momentum again, stretching the arms and the body allowed him to run at least one step fewer.

Everyone knows you should always slide the bat into the crease, but it's important to remember to slide either the face or the edge of the bat. Earlier, coaches believed it was best to use only the edge, but considering the bat sometimes gets stuck that way, the approach has changed. Another benefit of having the bat face the ground is that when you dive to make the crease, the bat stays grounded. If you try diving in with the back of the bat facing down, the curve of the blade sometimes leaves vital inches in the air.

Also, one must not forget the importance of staying off the business area of the pitch at all times. The only exception to this rule is when you have to come in the way of a throw to avoid getting run-out.

Judgement, rapport, strategy
Speed is overrated in running between the wickets. Yes, you need to be quick to get to the other end but a good sprinter may not necessarily be a good runner between wickets. It's more about your awareness and judgement with regards to the power with which you have hit the ball and the ability of the fielder.

But it always starts with the intent. Both Gautam Gambhir and Viru are good examples here - though, while you have to give them full marks for intent, their judgement can be questioned at times. The person who rarely gets it wrong in judging is Sachin Tendulkar. Invariably he knows how many runs are available right from the moment he hits the ball. You will rarely see him huffing and puffing or diving to make his ground.

In many instances there are only one-and-a-half or two-and-a-half runs available. That's when good runners put pressure on the fielder. MS Dhoni is excellent at this. He's extremely quick between the wickets and uses that speed to steal an extra run whenever possible.

Since, calling is based on judgment, the moment it isn't spot-on, you're in a spot. At times the striker takes the non-striker's running skills into account before calling for a run, which invariably leads to disaster.

Misunderstandings also occur often, especially in loud and noisy stadia. It's almost impossible to hear each other through the din, so one reacts on instinct and based on faith in one's partner. This is where knowing the other person well helps. No wonder Gauti and Viru are good friends off the field too.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir run between the wickets,  Bangladesh v India, 1st Test, Chittagong, 1st day, January 17, 2010
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag back each other when it comes to taking calls between the wickets © AFP

Good runners either know or decide among themselves in advance the path in which they will be running. Ideally, the striker should run down the off side channel and the non-striker on the leg side, but it changes if the bowler goes around the stumps or if a left-hander bowls over the stumps to a right-hand batsman or vice versa. In such cases it's the non-striker who gives way to the striker and runs further away from the stumps.

Dealing with a substitute runner is also a challenge. The rule here is that it's always the striker's call and the substitute must not assume anything but only react to the call and respond appropriately. Problems happen when the substitute starts calling from square leg and the non-striker doesn't know where to look.

Running as a weapon
Stealing a single right under the nose of a fielder, especially a good one, is a kick. At times you stretch the envelope too much, test a good fielder, punt and fall short. Sehwag, though a good runner, is often guilty of running himself out, even in Test matches.

Both he and I took a lot of pride in running the Australians tired in the 2003-04 series. We hadn't decided beforehand that taking singles would be the strategy to ruffle them. In fact, Viru is always eager to get on and off strike, and for me, singles were the lifeline against disciplined bowling.

It started when we ran a single in the first Test in Brisbane. The fielder at gully threw a lobbed ball to the man at point. Since the ball hadn't reached the keeper, it wasn't dead. We sensed an opportunity and ran.

There's nothing a bowler hates more than leaking singles. He doesn't mind getting hit for fours because he knows he bowled a bad ball, but going for runs on good balls irks him big time. Also, if the strike is rotated, it means he has to bowl to a different batsman each time, which means he can't plan a dismissal.

You need to be a little cheeky too. I remember Ajay Jadeja once running when the striker was caught at slip off a no-ball. The fielder threw the ball in the air to celebrate without realising it was a no-ball. Jadeja was more aware and stole a single.

With the margin of victory getting smaller in the shorter formats, and captains opting for defensive field positions in Test cricket, running between the wickets has become ever so crucial.

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Saturday, 10 July 2010

You are a Brand

Are you a Coke or a Pepsi?
Presenting yourself as a 'brand' may help you secure a job interview.

Remember the Pepsi Challenge? Take a group of punters, two cans of cola, cover up the labels, and get them to taste. Pepsi always wins; more people like the taste of Pepsi than Coke.

But walk into a supermarket and something weird happens. Coke outsells Pepsi. For quite a lot of us, the rational bit of our brain, which tells us Pepsi is nicer, gets overridden. An irrational, emotional bit, the bit that likes the sexy shape of the old Coke bottle, or that would like to teach the world to sing, takes control, and we buy Coke.

That’s the power of a brand, and people have them just like companies. And recruiting someone is like walking down that supermarket aisle. Loads of people apply, with roughly the same experience, skills and qualifications. Rationally, there’s not much to choose between them – candidates are a hundred cans of cola on a shelf. So how do employers pick who to interview?

They pick irrationally. Emotionally. On the basis of what they pick up about your personal brand. And most of that will come from the way you write your CV and cover letter. Not just getting your apostrophes in the right place (though that’s a good start), but your 'tone of voice’.

So for any decent job, an identikit CV means death. Start with 'I am a hard-working team player ...’ and, even if it’s true, you’ll sink back into the vat of candidate cola that’s slopping around. And avoid buzzwords. If you trained a load of people, say that; don’t say you 'upskilled a functional unit of direct reports’.

If I’m the employer, wading through them, I want someone who makes me take notice. Who sounds funny. Or brave. Or good company. Or caring. Someone who takes the risk of standing out from the crowd. If your hobby is the conservation of rare toads, drop that in. If you think the way your industry works is completely unsustainable, say so. Anything that will intrigue your reader into conversation will pay dividends. Because the aim of most job applications isn’t to get you a job, it’s to get an interview. Once you’re in the room you can show what a hard-working team player you are. By then you’ve got me hooked.

That’s why, for many big brands and smaller companies, how you reply to a job advert is the first filter.

They might have spent thousands on a recruitment campaign.

So if you don’t pick up on the tone of that ad, and send a generic CV, like most people do, it says you probably won’t pick up on the culture if you end up working there. It says you’re the wrong person.

You must put a bit more of yourself into your writing. Decide if you want to sound like a Coke, or a supermarket’s own brand.

If it’s the right place, and the right job for you, it will work.

And then you won’t kick yourself for being like Pepsi – competent, but unloved.

Neil Taylor is creative director of brand language consultancy The Writer ( and author of Brilliant Business Writing.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Food for thought

What is "the most common mistake of very smart people"?

It's "the assumption that other people's minds work in the same way that theirs do". In other words, like mathematical models.

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