Thank you Test Cricket for sumptuous, textbook batting

My first love in cricket was Graham Yallop. I shrink with embarrassment revealing that, of course, but what the hey. I was a sensitive and artistic kid, he had a sumptuous cover drive, one thing inevitably led to another. The planets were aligned.

My infatuation with Graham Yallop took me on an emotional roller coaster ride during the early 80’s. Graham Yallop was really only a fringe player, so I was forever agonizing over his selection. Time and again, he was found out at Test level and banished back to shield cricket. Every time this happened, I took it hard. It was as though artistry had been conquered; it was as though sumptuousness had no place amongst the brutal forces at the international level. For a starry-eyed 13 year old, it was downright depressing.

Fortunately, Australia was at a low ebb during this era, so Yallop was recycled more times than cardboard. Just as I’d thought a limp capitulation to Bob Willis or Colin Croft had sealed his fate, a tour to the sub-continent would follow, and he would be back in favor. Here, against the wiliness and wizardry of spinners and away from the intimidatory methods of fast bowlers, he reveled. (And did he what!) On these turning wickets, Yallop’s dancing feet nullified the spin and he made numerable big scores. Every time he did, all was right in my world; every time he did, I walked with a spring in my step (and I did so even though I’d only ever see grainy highlights of these innings on the news.)

My love of sumptuous batting peaked at a new high upon Mark Waugh’s arrival. No player I’ve seen before or since has had his artistry. His on side play was pure poetry, and in watching him, you couldn’t help but think that humans were genetically engineered to be cricketers, such was his symmetry.

A brief Mark Waugh innings left you unsated and hungering for more. It was like having a triple fudge sundae taken from you after one bite, and in the cases where he lazily chipped a innocuous delivery down mid-on’s throat, it was like dropping your double cone Gelati into kitty litter.

In accordance with my sensitivity to textbook batting, my favorite form of the game is naturally enough Test cricket. It is here where orthodox batting thrives – where V.V.S. Laxman, Ian Bell and co can wait for the right ball to play aesthetically. The short form games, however, ask these players to compromise their art. Instead of waiting for the right ball, batsmen are under pressure to score off every ball. Batsmen here have to throw out the manual and hit across the line. They have to slog into cow corner and flat bat down the ground. Disconcertingly, the short forms pervert the finest traditions of batting.

Picture this classic tableau: three slips and a gully, a ring of infielders and a fine leg. It is, of course, a Test team on the attack. A fast bowler then releases the ball and a counter attacking batsmen plays an elegant stroke that pierces the field. The ball stops just short of the pickets and the crisscrossing batsmen complete three runs before a fielder’s sizzling throw slaps into the keepers gloves. An appreciative audience of connoisseurs then applauds politely. It is all very civilized and cultured and idyllic. Now picture a typical tableau in T20: no slips, a ring of outfielders and a team looking helplessly on the defense. The bowler releases and a beefy batsman slogs across the line. The struck ball, more muscled then timed, fizzles towards cow corner where it is cut off by an outfielder. The ball is then thrown to the keeper after the batsmen have ambled from crease to crease to complete a run. A drunken, festival audience expecting the pyrotechnics of another 6 hardly notice the stanza and look on blankly. It is all dumbed down and lowest common denominator and brutish. Now I ask you, where of the two are you more likely to the find the exquisite? (and as an aside, where are you more likely to find half a brain?!)

Textbook shots, when played by the finest batsmen are of endless wonder. I never tire of their nuance and charm. I also love how they are part of cricket’s etiquette. If the ball is pitched up, you play off the front foot. If it is short, you play off the back. There is an appropriate shot for every ball. There is an order. “Akram pitches it short and Laxman rocks back and cuts sweetly. What a gorgeous shot! Now back to Kerry’s ramblings.”

The game has evolved the off drive, the on drive and the straight drive. It has developed the cut, the hook and the sweep. Then there is also the pull, the loft and the defensive prod. And what about the non shots: the shouldered arms, the duck and the leave. They are all part of cricket’s rich heritage and so long as the game is played over 5 days and bowlers bowl at different lengths and on different sides of the wicket, they have their place. That I’m sure is immutable.

Lastly, orthodoxy also brings out the more refined elements in our language. Cover drives are glorious and hook shots are commanding; late cuts are elegant and clips of the hip nifty. And then there’s batting described as sumptuous. Sumptuous is reserved for the highest echelon of artistry. Mark Waugh off drives are sumptuous and Graham Yallop’s off side play was sumptuous. Indeed, sumptuousness found its true calling when describing cricket. But only test cricket. Sumptuous has no place in the short form games. Here, big hits are incredible and smashed balls are awesome. In this landscape, cricket is described by illiterates – and spotty faced teenage types at that.

I guess I sound snobbish about crude stroke play, but I’m not. It’s just that I don’t want textbook players batting that way. In fact, I quite enjoy batsmen hitting across the line. Indeed, at Test level it is exhilarating. The players who hit across the line in Test cricket do so knowing that they will be severely criticized if dismissed cheaply. They are daredevils on a trapeze wire with no net. There is a perspective. Most tellingly, they are usually bowling all-rounders. Think Botham, Dev and Akram. Because they are primarily picked as bowlers, bowling all-rounders are liberated to bat cavalierly. When it doesn’t pay off, they can always redeem themselves with the ball. I think this creates a lovely contrast. The all-rounder at Test level is a swashbuckler, a carefree type that takes risks and lives dangerously. He is a different breed to the specialist batsmen, who is more workaday and conservative. Only test cricket creates this differentiation – in short form cricket, everyone bats like a millionaire. Short form cricket lacks Test cricket’s complexion.

Sadly, Test cricket has become moribund in many parts of the world. We Australians and the English get it, but everywhere else they don’t. It staggers me that countries with deep cricketing roots such as India, West Indies and New Zealand cannot see the trees from the forest. They now prefer a dumbed down version of the game to the genuine article; or to put it more in keeping with my article, they now prefer pyrotechnics over artistry. Hopefully, good taste will prevail and one day this will be remedied.

Footnote: I have one last embarrassing detail about Graham Yallop. When I was 14, I said to a schoolmate, “If I was a girl, I’d marry him.” My schoolmate inched away, naturally enough, and never looked at me the same way again.

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  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    I agree Peter , the use of technology is de -humanising the game which in turn skews the way people play it .

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Sorry Peter , my previous comment was meant for another article but I enjoyed reading this as well!

  3. Lord Bogan says

    Peter, I too was a fan of Yallop. I bowled to him in some makeshift nets at Northland shopping center when I was 12. He treated me and all the other Preston/Reservoir bogans with respect when it would have been tempting to smash it back at our cheeky faces. His innings of 268 against Pakistan at the G in 1983/4 was a highlight.

  4. The 268 @ the G was a great knock, in what was a stellar summer for Yallop. Then he did his knee, missing the tour of the Windies. Who knows how he would have fared? He was at the peak of his form, but these were looming as the hardest tests of all; none the less it is now an academic question. Subsequently, in the summer of 84-85, he was exposed to the Windies pace on the WACA wicket, and his test career finished then.

    At test level , after Dean Jones, he’s been our second most succesful batsmen since the halcyon days of Lawry, Stackpole, Redapth, Cowper, and to a lesser degree, Sheehan. Where have the Victorian batsmen gone since the 1970’s?


  5. Hey Phil and Glen

    I was a bit hard on Yallop in my piece. His career has some noteworthy highlights: the 268, the brilliant 121 in the 6th Test in 78/79, a courageous 81 in the West Indies later that year. He also made a fabulous hundred in the 5th Ashes Test in 1981. I’m just a little embarressed that Yallop was my hero and not cooler types like David Hookes or Greg Chappell. Yallop was as fine a batsman as he was eye catching. Indeed, if not for Kim Hughes unneccesarily sheilding him frokm the strike in 81, he would be thought of more highly I venture.

  6. John Harms says

    Mate of mine – Johnny O’Keefe – bowled leggies at Richmond and for Souths in Brisbane. Said Graham Yallop and Glenn Trimble were the two cleanest/hardest hitters he bowled at. He played good cricket for many, many years and bowled at some top players.

    Does anyone remember JOK as a cricketer? He is an occasional contributor to the Almanac site – and was in our tipping comp.

    One of of the very finest.

  7. DBalassone says

    Great piece Peter. When it comes to sumptuous, textbook batting I will take a left-hander any day – and didn’t Yallop fit the bill? Gower and Lara are 2 others who spring to mind. The elegance, the footwork, the cover driving!

    I was a big Yallop fan too. I think it had something to do with no Victorians being in the test team in the 82/83 Ashes series (Hoggy was a South Australian at the time). Yallop had an incredible Shield season that year and if memory serves, broke Bradman’s record for the most first-class runs in an Australian summer. He simply had to come into the test team in 83/84 and what a season he had, capped off with that majestic double-century in the Boxing day test in front of the home crowd, as many have alluded to in this thread. He actually did his knee in Melbourne as well. It was the first one-dayer versus the Windies about 2 weeks later. I remember grimacing when he hit the turf while fielding in the covers – you knew it was serious.

    In his defence, I don’t think he was quite 100% when he returned to face Marshall, Holding, Garner and co in 84/85 and was dropped soon after. He must have seen the writing on the wall, and joined the rebel South African tour soon after, but I wonder if would have been good enough to get back in the test side, had he have stayed. He could have been handy in England in ’85 when Richard Ellison ran amok in the final 2 tests.

    If you’re ever at the Prince Patrick Hotel in Victoria Parade, there’s a book by Yallop sitting on the shelves called “Lambs to the Slaughter”. It’s the story of the 78/79 summer when he skippered the “official” Australian test team, during the WSC days. There’s some great stuff about Rodney Hogg. Hoggy had an amazing summer (40 odd wickets @ 12 apiece), but strangely hated Yallop’s guts and constantly refused to follow his orders. Great reading.

  8. JH, I heard that when JOK bowled a cracking delivery it really made him wanna go up and SHOUT!

  9. Hey folks

    JOK leaps out at me. I’m sure I came across the name on district scorecards. Sounds like a good bloke if he speaks highly of my idol. Read lambs to the slaughter years ago. Not as good as silence of the lambs. But the 78/79 5-1 drubbing was way more horrifying.

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