December 3, 2020 8:10:00 am
An incident during the third South Africa-England T20I at Cape Town on Tuesday provided a perspective on who really calls the shots in cricket’s shortest format.
When the hosts were batting, England analyst Nathan Leamon was seen hanging a series of coded messages from the team balcony — in combinations of letters and numbers — for the players out in the middle. It may have prompted some raised eyebrows and speculation about the legality of the move, but England seemed to have pushed the envelope in that regard while exploiting an existing loophole in the rules.
‘Live information resource’
The incident brought back memories of the 1999 World Cup when the Proteas experimented with earpieces for then coach Bob Woolmer to pass on instructions to skipper Hansie Cronje and fast bowler Allan Donald. That move was quickly snuffed out and any sort of electronic communication is banned in cricket.
But it seems that England using a more basic mode of getting the message through has not violated rules. Fast bowler Mark Wood, who was not part of the playing XI, said the team had cleared the move with the match referee first. “If they didn’t think that (it was fair and legal), I’m sure they would have said no. “Maybe this is part of the new way of cricket. We’re always looking for ways to improve so maybe this is it. I think it’s good for the captain to have. It’s great to have the information there. Nathan does a good job. So any little bit can help,” Wood told the media after the game.
The team management said the coded messages – one was C3, another 4E – were not binding on the captain to follow. They called it “live information resource.”
‘Bit of an experiment’
“It’s a little help, a suggestion and what match-ups are going on,” vice-captain Jos Buttler said after the nine-wicket victory that sealed a 3-0 clean-sweep.
“Seriously, analysis has become such a huge part of the game. (Skipper) Eoin (Morgan) and Nathan work closely on analysis. It’s just a little bit of an experiment. Eoin is one of the best captains in the world, a fantastic, instinctive captain, and there’s a nice balance going on.”
According to the BBC, an England spokesperson later said that “the captain may choose to use or ignore as he wishes. They’re not commands or instructions, and all decision-making takes place on the field.”
Sky Sports said Leamon had a series of numbers and letters on clipboards on the team balcony to use them for conveying messages during the game.
Some like it, some don’t
Former England captain Michael Atherton said he wasn’t surprised that Leamon employed this novel tactic of communication, and doesn’t find anything wrong with it. Atherton said the system was trialled in the Pakistan Super League earlier this year, and he had even discussed it with Leamon.
“Nathan is the analyst of the Multan Sultans in the Pakistan Super League — he said the idea was live signals to the captain, who was Shan Masood. It was about offering him information, which he didn’t have to take. I think they were doing hand signals in the PSL, whereas here it was slightly different. I am okay with it. It is very different to Bob Woolmer feeding stuff in real time to Hansie Cronje in the 1999 World Cup through an earpiece,” the former opening batsman was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.
Another former England captain, Michael Vaughan had a slightly different take on the matter. “Signals sent from an analyst on a balcony to the captain on the pitch !!!! The world has officially gone nuts !!” he posted on Twitter.
Sign of things to come?
Conventionally, the coaching staff would send someone with gloves or a bottle of water to pass on a message, or just tell something to a boundary fielder to convey it to the captain. Traditionalists would argue cricket is quite different from a sport like football, and the captain is in charge of the team, unlike the manager or coach in the latter.
But T20 cricket has often been at the cutting edge of innovation and has to keep evolving to stay ahead of other means of entertainment. The Big Bash League in Australia is introducing a few new rules for its upcoming season, one of which is the option for teams to substitute one of the players in their first XI with either their 12th or 13th men after the 10th over of the first innings, in a strategic call.
When the team, and the captain, is out in the field, it may come down to the coach’s decision. Former first-class cricketer and respected voice in the game, Simon Hughes – well known in his avatar as The Analyst on British television – saw nothing wrong in the coach making tactical decisions.
“The coach is more important in the shorter formats in comparison to Test cricket as they plan forensically for various possible scenarios in the game. It’s almost like the manager’s job in football. Also, they may notice something from outside which may escape the captain’s attention out in the middle,” he told The Indian Express.
Did it work?
Whatever one thinks of the move, one can argue that it hardly made much difference to the game. Batting first, South Africa were struggling at 70/3 after 11 overs. Morgan wouldn’t have needed much external guidance at that stage. The next nine overs went for 121 runs. Whatever Leamon might have suggested, it didn’t work – if Morgan had followed that, in the first place.
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