Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking.

For the cricketer, eight maids a-milking can only be a nostalgic reference to the 8 ball over. Although the 6 ball over has been standard since 1978-79, becoming enshrined in the Laws in 2000, at various times and in various places overs comprised different numbers of balls. From 1936-37 until 1978-79 the 8 ball over was used in Australia,as it was between 1938-39 and 1957-58 in S Africa. N Zealand used the 8 ball over between 1968-69 and 1978-79.  But at earlier period in the game's history the 4, then the 5, ball over was standard and the first Test matches were based on the 4 ball over.  In 1939 the 8 ball over was introduced in English First Class cricket on an experimental basis, but the War intervened and the experiment was abandoned.

There are occasionally suggestions that the reintroduction of the 8 ball over would speed play up and overcome the persistent problem of slow over rates. But the fast bowlers' union responds that this would be against their interests, particularly in some of the hot and humid environments that cricket is played. Advertisers also would be unlikely to welcome fewer between over breaks. So it is likely that the 6 ball over will remain. Unless of course the ICC thinks that something different should prevail because it has been used in T20 cricket.

Although his world wide readers will know that Fantasy Bob is a traditionalist in most things, he thinks that 8 ball overs should be used in evening matches to reduce the time lost through changing ends.

But in lower league cricket the 6 ball over can be the exception or at best a rough average. Many umpires have an uncertain grasp on the number of balls bowled in the over, having been distracted by any number of factors - some of them actually on the field of play.  Signalling a four can plant the idea of four even after the first ball of the over. Some of course simply can't count and have no knowledge of numbers after 1, 3.  Some judge the end of the over by the boredom factor. Had enough?  Must be the over.  Then there are the wides and no balls - and in lower league cricket these can be a constant feature and it is a strain on the already stressed umpire to remember not to count them - or to allow only one additional ball.  It would unduly strain these individuals to introduce 8 ball overs.

It is one of the many anxieties of a lower league umpire that he may have to stretch his arithmetical prowess far beyond its natural limits.  He may feel complacently comfortable at counting to 6, but he knows that at any time and without warning an attempt may be made on the record set by Courtney Walsh, who in the final test between Australia and West Indies in Perth in the 1996-97 series bowled a 15 ball over containing 9 no-balls. But Mohammad Sami of Pakistan topped that when he bowled an over of 17 balls in an ODI against Bangaldesh in 2004.  Sami bowled 7 wides and 4 no-balls.  But humanity can intervene in the lower leagues.  When it is a junior spraying it to all parts of the compass, an umpire might think that after 3 or 4 wides the youngster deserves some mercy and may call over - the batting side will rarely demur, they know the light is fading.  FB regrets that this humanity does not extend to players of his seniority.  Were FB to get in the Walsh or Sami situation the umpire would not only have to the challenge of heroic arithmetical gymnastics but should also be ensuring that emergency resuscitation equipment is being made available on the boundary.  If medical equipment is not to hand, a large supply of biscuits might have to do.

In lower league cricket 8 maidens, whether a-milking or not, is a lot but a mere bagatelle in Test cricket. The record is 49, sent down by Alf Valentine of West Indies had 49 overs during his 92 overs in the second innings against England at Trent Bridge in 1950. During the Lord's Test on that same 1950 tour, Valentine bowled 75 maidens in the match (another record), while his spin partner Sonny Ramadhin delivered 70. The most successive maiden overs in a Test is 21, by the Indian slow left-armer Bapu Nadkarni, in the first Test against England in Madras in 1963-64. Nadkarni bowled 131 successive dot-balls in that spell, but that didn't break the Test record, which remains 137, by the South African offspinner Hugh Tayfield against England in Durban in 1956-57. Those were eight-ball overs, though, so Tayfield managed "only" 16 maidens in that spell, which spanned both innings.  16 maids a-milking.  Quite a gift.

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