Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Telegraph blogs gets it wrong on Sarah Taylor



Yesterday "A professional cricket gambler" (and how extraordinary a way to byline a piece) wrote a Telegraph blog on Sarah Taylor's possible role for Sussex CC's Second XI. I thought it might benefit from a quick fisking.

I pretty much watch every single professional cricket match there is and study each of the players and teams for a living.

Impressive stuff. Right now is a particularly quiet day, with no international matches, but from Pakistan alone he's presumably watching Faisalabad and Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and Karachi, Islamabad and Sialkot, Lahore and Abbottabad, Sui Gas and Habib Bank and Quetta and Peshawar. The TV room must be a sight to behold. Of course, he'll also be keeping an eye on four more games from the West Indies and India, and will be keeping an eye on the Big Bash in Australia too. We should definitely take this guy seriously.

Odds and cricket are my life. My colleagues and I essentially try to predict what is going to happen in the cricket world every day there’s a match on. However, what no odds can predict is a) whether the talented Sarah Taylor, England’s women’s wicketkeeper, is going to indeed make history by becoming the first woman to play for a men’s team (Sussex’s second XI) this summer, and b) if she does – whether it will work out well.

Oh, maybe not then.

Cricket is 80 per cent a game of technique, speedy reactions and sharp coordination - so in a lot of ways there's no reason why women can't compete with men. I cannot deny Taylor’s debut for a men’s team would be great viewing from a curiosity point of view. It would be fascinating to see her batting against spin bowlers. Plus, as she's a wicket-keeper, which is a very technical and athletic position, there is no reason why a world-class women's cricketer couldn’t well be up to standard in county 2nd XI.

This is true.

However, I still think it will be a huge challenge for her because the remaining 20 per cent of the game relies on power. Having watched a fair bit of women's cricket in my time – it is that element which makes the big difference - as a full-blooded whack from a female cricketer only goes two-thirds the way that a man's hit goes - making it very hard for Taylor, despite her immense skill, to score 4's and 6's.

There's so much wrong with this I'm not entirely sure where to start. Let's, out of kindness, not attempt to work out how our commentator quantified the magic figures of "20 per cent" and "two thirds" - let's instead think about this. The boundaries in women's cricket are not two thirds the size of men's. Runs come from timing far more than they do strength - that's why, say, Ian Bell has hit a lot more boundaries than the hundreds of club cricketers who are bigger and stronger than him. Jonathan Trott didn't hit a six for England until 2011 and has still yet to do so in a Test. There are many male players who make use of their immense power. But in the longer form of the game, it just ain't that important.

The fast all male bowlers on will be bowling up to 20 per cent quicker (roughly speaking the fastest woman = 78mph / fastest man = 93mph) and that difference in speed makes an enormous difference. The balls they use in men's cricket are also a fraction bigger and heavier.

True. The bowling will be faster. Mentioning 93mph is ludicrous, because it's an outlier - very rare that you see that kind of pace in a county game, let alone in a 2nd XI match. What Taylor will see is a lot of bowling around that 78-early 80s mph pace, which is a few yards quicker than most women quicks. And yes, this means she might struggle. But just as power's not everything - neither is pace. This leads into the next point:

I am not saying that Taylor couldn’t handle herself – but what I am concerned about is whether the male fast bowlers would be happy about bowling to her – in the same (sic) they would to her other male team mates – should this situation arise in the summer. 

A massive part of their tactics is physical intimidation, i.e. bowling fast and so that it bounces towards the head or chest. If she hits a bowler for a boundary then they might want to bowl a 'bouncer' at her in normal circumstances, but the vast majority of them are just not going to want to injure a woman, (a nice touch of benevolent sexism) so it places the other players in a tough situation.

Taylor's played for Darton CC's 1st XI. She'll have faced plenty of bowlers sending it down in at least the high 70s. She'll presumably have had the bowling machine at Loughborough higher than that. The leap up to County Second XI cricket is not so far in terms of standard. Knowing what I do of the club game, I find it very unlikely they'll have shirked bouncing her if they felt the need. Injuries are a part of sport, whether they involve being hit by the ball or twisting your ankle. The pros will bounce her, as they will anyone else. She's a professional sportswoman, and would expect no less. And like everyone else, she'll sink or swim.

As Mike Selvey as pointed out, Taylor doesn't play like a lot of women. She has a technique uniquely suited to the men's game. None of this is to say she'll fail. But if she does, it won't be for the reasons described in this blog.



6 comments:

  1. BUT SHE'S A WOMAN!

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  2. In a way I reckon she might be best suited to the quicker bowling, she's got a really good off side game (unlike most women cricketers) and this means she might get more power in her shots from quicker bowling. One of the reasons there isn't much power in women's cricket is that the bowling is fairly slow compared to men, so they have to manufacture a lot of the power in the way that men don't always have to do.

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    1. Exactly. This was something I should have mentioned - how much power do you need to hit the ball anywhere behind square? Not that you need loads to hit it in front of square.

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  3. Very good post. In fairness to the original blogger, cricket bookies really do watch that much cricket. (Until you have endured a batathon between Services and Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy you aren't really a cricket bookie.) Other than that you criticisms are dead on.

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