Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Taking Guard

FB apologises - because of technical problems, he has had to prepare this posting on a back-up system which has restricted his use of illustrations.

Taking guard is an important ritual.  It is a manifesto. It is a fashion statement. It is a declaration of intent.  It is performance art.

This is the one part of batting that, with a modicum of intensive coaching, can be mastered by just about every player.  But some still have difficulty.  M ore times than he cares to recall FB has been faced during his umpiring stints by a player who is incapable of holding his bat in vertical alignment.  A batter whose purposeful stride to the crease has put FB in mind of Ponting will puncture that illusion beyond repair by asking for middle with his bat angled at 45%


 Get your bat straight.  It is straight Not straight in the sense of unbent, straight in the sense of vertical  The bat becomes more horizontal.  No…………..straight………..vertical means up and down  The fielding side realise that it is not Ponting after all as the bat goes through an arc of about 90 degrees so it is vertical the other way.  No, STRAIGHT!.  Intensive coaching is required to get over this basic fault.

You givin' me middle and leg?
You givin' me middle and leg?
Then who the hell else
are you givin' middle and leg to?
Taking guard is the only part of batting that is dialogue rich.  Keen observers of the game will claim that this is not strictly true FB acknowledges that running between the wickets can be accompanied, or preceded, or followed by an explosion of verbiage, but strictly speaking only 3 words are required yes, no, and wait.  And preferably not in that order.  But taking guard is the only dialogue that a player will rehearse his utterance like Travis Bickle in the movieTaxi Driver - in front of the mirror.  

What to say and how to say it There is the polite   'Afternoon umpire. Can you give me middle please sir?'  The curt, which is little more than a grunt, 'Middle'.  The jolly, exploiting familiarity with the umpire Hi Jim, what about 2 legs today you old mucker, hows the family eh?  The inquisitive Is that 2 legs? or uncertain Is that about 2 legs.  The mystified who puts the request the other way Whats that?  Finally, there is the wordless who just hold 2 fingers up to the umpire. 

Engineering
operations
in progress
Having established the geographical coordinates of the wickets, the batsman must make his mark.  Never mind that there may be an infinity of marks already on the crease, dog-like he must mark his territory.  There is a wide range of techniques the side of the boot, the spikes, the bat, a thin line, a thick line, a line at an angle to the line of the guard, 2 lines to the line making an arrow, the line all the way back to the stumps, the line a foot or two in front of the crease.  Too much choice.  And then there is the approach approved by the Institute of Civil Engineering that involves taking a bail and tapping it to drill a hole, or 2 or three.  And then joining them up with one of the previously mentioned techniques.    This is only done to annoy the hell out of the fielding side who see the light fading as the drilling operation goes on.  They are only too aware that if this batsman should survive and make his way to the other end, the whole ritual will begin again. 

FB has also seen batsmen who are serial guard takers.  There are 2 sorts.  They start off on leg, having established that they then ask for middle, and having done that they then complete the set by asking for off.  FB is sure that somewhere in world cricket there is a batter who having done this then seeks to refine the data base further by asking for middle and leg………....there is a high chance that this batter is bowled first ball hopelessly bemused by all the marking he has no idea where his off stump is. 

The other serial guard taker is the man who checks it every second over, as if the world might have moved on its axis in that time and disturbed the fragile geometry of alignment that he previously established.
The master of guard taking is of course Jonathan Trott who uses all the approaches above and undertakes an engineering operation similar to that which delivered the trenches in the Western Front during WW1.  Umpires have been concerned about the implications of this engineering work and whether were a golf ball to alight in Trotts fortifications, the golfer could claim relief from the scrapings of a burrowing animal.  A burrowing animal is defined by the USGA as is an animal that makes a hole for habitation or shelter, such as a rabbit, mole, groundhog, gopher or salamander.  Trotts scrapings are certainly made for habitation or shelter at the crease so FB assumes this law would apply.  It is as well that this ruling stands little chance of having to be tested.
Having scraped to his satisfaction, the coaching manuals suggest that the batsman then survey the field and note where the fielders are placed.  Some go even to the length of counting them, as if an extra man might have slipped on at the fall of wicket.  In lower league cricket this ritual is essential it is vital the batter knows exactly where to direct his shots which are invariably straight at the fielders.
These rituals having been accomplished, the batter can then bend to the inconsequential matter of facing his first ball.
One question disturbs FB's dreamless sleep on this subject.  The top players invariably take leg stump guard.  Why then do they all need to go through this ritual?  It must be clear from looking at the crease where leg stump is.
Taking guard en garde.  Really it's the same.

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