Definitely.Maybe - The Corridor of Uncertainty

17 Sep

Sean McP
Sean McPartlin's latest blog looks at how the role of uncertainty can play in the sporting arena. 

Sheltering in the Grange pavilion as the hailstones battered off the covers during the Scotland v New Zealand A fixture, I thought of Geoffrey Boycott, or rather a particular phrase of his: “The corridor of uncertainty”. 

It applies, of course, to that line on or around off stump which poses questions of the batsman: how to play it, or indeed, whether or not to leave it. I have to say that in my case it was never a mere corridor, more a wide area of rolling parkland of indecision, but that’s another story. 

“Luck’, of course, is integral to all sport, but it struck me that ‘uncertainty’ plays a big role in all areas of the summer game. I frequently make plans well ahead of games which involve long distance travel and commitment of time and money. Imagine booking a theatre or concert ticket and being told that the event may not start on time, it may be shorter than you thought, it could well happen the following day –or, indeed, it might not happen at all. It’s a bizarre thought. 

However, if the weather is unpredictable, so too is its effect on the game. 

Surely one of the joys of cricket is the coming together of talent, fate, equipment and landscape in a maelstrom of possibilities and unforeseen happenings. Will the ball swing, will it turn, how will the wicket play in general, will the ball retain its shine, how is this umpire on LBWs, will it rain later, which way will the wind blow, which end to bowl the spinner from, heavy bat or light bat, attacking field or more defensive? 

It seems appropriate that each game is started by the toss of a coin because – really, and even taking talent, ability, commitment and form into account, you can never really tell what is going to happen once the umpire shouts “Play!” It’s  no wonder that the origins of the game were closely connected with ‘wagers’, and even, I suppose, that its elements of chance continue to attract the betting fraternity in various nefarious ways. 

Admittedly, the width of a goalpost or a clipped hurdle can affect results in other sports, and referees, like umpires, can sometimes bring a touch of the unforeseeable to their decisions, but I remain unconvinced that any sport is so completely in the thrall of uncertainty as is the game of cricket.

A major attraction, of course, is seeing how  players cope with the vagaries of fate, and to what extent their talent, ability, and determination can offset the arrows of outrageous misfortune which may be fired at them. 

If there is much uncertainty, then there are many calculations to be made, and options to be weighed. Perhaps cricket is such an engrossing sport because of  the need to multi-task – to move beyond the sportsman’s hand-eye coordination to a cerebral and analytical input, a knowledge of statistics, locality, and opposing players –as well your own. I can imagine some skippers reading this and muttering that the most unpredictable element in the game is  their own team! 

Ultimately, though, whether you are packing your gear into the boot of the car, or boarding a train to a distant town, as player or spectator, you can never know what the day ahead will bring – just ask Mike Gatting about Shane Warne’s first ball in Test cricket 

Given my limited ability as a cricketer, it’s unsurprising that most of my experiences of the unpredictable were on the positive side, and framed by looks of incredulity on team mates’ faces, However,  in my role as spectator, the hand of fate involved one of the all time great players.

I had an American friend who routinely referred to cricket as ‘baseball for catatonics’. I failed to change his mind until fate  intervened. Lancashire were playing on my local ground during one of his visits. Clive Lloyd was captain. 

I launched into my spiel: think Joe DiMaggio and  Babe Ruth  combined; this was a giant of the game; whatever your sport, you would be sure to recognize greatness when you saw Lloyd bat or field; it would change his mind about cricket for ever. 

Eventually I persuaded him. I pointed out it was after tea, we would be able to get in for nothing, and Lancashire would be batting or fielding. On all counts, his eyebrows suggested “Quaint!” 

By good fortune, five minutes after we arrived, a wicket fell, and the familiar figure of Hubert loped out towards the middle. 

I pointed out his feline grace, his air of control. My pal queried the thick rimmed glasses but was suitably impressed by the excited murmur from alround the ground. 

Clive took guard, checked the field and took up his stance. I warned my American buddy to look out – in case the ball came rapidly in our direction. He perked up a little: “Oh – a Home Run, yeah?” 

I’m unsure how many ducks Lloyd compiled for Lancashire, but, caught by Norman Yardley off the bowling of Basil d’Oliveira, this was one of them. I think my friend experienced the all time great batsman for less than two minutes. 

He didn’t speak till we reached the street outside:

            “Awesome!” he said. 

And they say Americans have no sense of irony…….

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