Questions for Nasser

Former England captain Nasser Hussain recently wrote that cricket is much more PROFESSIONAL and multi-dimensional these days. If it indeed is, he would do well to answer the 17 questions raised here.

Throughout my career, I have always been careful to respect the skills displayed by players of the past and present. I was lucky to be selected to play for New South Wales at the age of 16 and to be part of an era when NSW won the Sheffield Shield seven times in succession. I also had the honour of playing with some of my heroes like Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey. I cherished my heroes and they were immensely helpful and kind to me.

In the second phase of my cricket career, I became a coach and gained a new respect for the young players. I never had the `old-timer syndrome' and I still don't. One of the great joys of my career was seeing young talent evolve and flourish. I have treasured my time as a player and a coach and I have respected and admired the talents of the current and emerging players.

It has generally been the tendency among retired cricketers to feel that `his era' is the best. Nothing has changed; the recently retired players believe that their time was the best. What annoys me, however, are statements that proclaim that present day cricketers are fitter and more professional than players of the past.

Former England captain Nasser Hussain recently wrote that cricket is much more professional and multi-dimensional these days. I am not quite sure what he meant, but if you relate professionalism to monetary rewards you would have to agree that current players are certainly ahead of the greats of the past. I am delighted for the players of today; those of the past with matching skills were poorly rewarded.

If Nasser is suggesting that the players of today are superior technically, mentally or physically, or better prepared, I would disagree with him. Yes, there is a different regime in cricket today with computers, science and numerous so-called experts in a variety of fields. But are they turning out a better product than in the past? How do you prove this?

Golf has probably done more scientifically in all areas than any sport. Huge changes have been made to clubs and balls to enable players to hit the ball further. Yet, with all this scientific and technical assistance the average scoring per round in professional golf has barely gone down a stroke from what was achieved by Harold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus all those years ago.

Things haven't changed all that much in cricket. The average Test batsman still averages about 35, good Test players 45, and the accepted theory is the greats have an average of above 50.

Bowling is still the same. The great bowlers are averaging between the low twenties and 27, the good bowlers in the low thirties and the average trundler averages more than 35.

My whole coaching philosophy is based on explaining to my wards the benefits of my suggestion in terms of how it will help them. Therefore, let us pose a few questions, the answers to which will challenge Nasser's claims.

If the game is so much more professional today I would like to know from him the answers to the following questions:

1. Why do so many more players get out without playing a shot than in earlier times? It seems at least one or two batsmen are out this way each Test.

2. Why are so many no-balls bowled in this more professional era, which leads to so many batsmen being dismissed off them?

3. Why is it that more batsmen get hit on the head now than in any other era?

4. Why do helmets not make batsmen better players of fast bowling?

5. Why do players of today practise the skills of the game less than their counterparts from any other sport?

6. Why is there no third man for most of the time when 25 per cent of runs are scored in this unprotected area?

7. Why has conventional swing with the new ball virtually gone out of the game even as reverse swing with the old ball is in vogue?

8. What is the value of bowlers operating to a seven-two field to both the new and old balls?

9. Why is it that almost every fast bowler is given two men on the boundary behind square leg and only one man to guard the huge area remaining on the on side? Any reasonable batsman will milk this field all day for easy singles.

10. Why are so many catches being dropped in Test cricket? (Nasser Hussain's article was written a day or so after England dropped nine catches in Sri Lanka's second innings of the Lord's Test.)

11. Why do wicket-keepers stand so deep these days? In the past, most 'keepers liked to take the ball about hip high. The modern 'keeper takes it below his knees. The 'keeper being so deep allows too many nicks to fall short. It also forces the slip fieldsmen to be stationed deep. This mucks up the angles for the slip cordon and denies them the opportunity of covering a wider area.

12. Why do fielders slide or fall over almost every time they pick up the ball, when this method makes it harder to pick up the ball cleanly and inevitably batsmen take an extra run with the fieldsman on the ground?

13. Why do fielders dive for catches or try to stop balls wide of them in a manner by which football goalkeepers push the ball over or around the posts?

14. In this so-called more professional era when teams have a host of experts to look after body, mind, fitness and strength, why are we having so many injuries to cricketers?

15. Why are bowlers less accurate? They certainly must be with teams scoring at four runs an over in Test cricket and ridiculous totals being easily obtained in ODIs.

16. Why has the quality and standard of Test cricket dropped so much? The West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa are nowhere as good as what they were. India and England, who promised so much, have struggled in recent times.

17. Finally, just why is the average `good' length ball for fast bowling now at least one yard shorter than what it once was? By bowling this length, the new ball bowlers are not giving the ball time to swing. Secondly, the shorter length reduces `the area of uncertainty', which is the length where it is hard for the batsman to decide whether he should play forward or back.

Let me quote from Nasser's article: "One of the misconceptions that has arisen in the wake of Lord's is that England actually practise dropping the ball so they can work on taking rebounds. What they actually do, occasionally, is take the catches, but then throw them down at an angle to see if the guy next to them can take the rebound, but they certainly didn't do that before Lord's."

I can't get my mind around that one. It seems to me that this is yet another fad or half-baked theory of which, quite frankly, we have had far too many.