The Smaximum (working title) is our new weekly bulletin on all the wonderful and strange things going on in the cricket world. By turns serious, satirical and subversive, it's a 2,500- word pick me up that'll get you ready for the weekend. Here are a few examples from the five previous editions (No 6 out May 20, 2022) Sign up at patreon.com/guerillacricket with a pledge of £4 or more a month to receive straight into your inbox
From Issue 5 (last week)
WAVING BRENDON McCULLUM HELLO
On May 29, 2015, the Smaximum (working title)™ was at Headingley for the first day of the second of the New Zealand Tests that served as an appetiser for the Ashes that summer.
New Zealand had lost Martin Guptill and the hugely valuable Kane Williamson, both scoreless, within 16 balls of a start delayed until after lunch by rain, and, having reached 68, the experienced Ross Taylor was also back in the hutch.
With the solid but at that time relatively inexperienced Tom Latham holding up one end, Brendon McCullum strode to the crease. In the next 11 overs, up to the tea break, the pair added 55 runs, 41 of them to McCullum, who steamrolled his way to 41 from 27 balls.
McCullum's reputation was already in the bank: in 2014 he bookended the year with a triple and a double century against India at its opening and another double against Pakistan towards its closure.
So, despite the presence in Leeds of large, dark, scuttling clouds which were regularly threatening to send the players running for the dressing-room, the Smaximum (working title)™ and his companion happily purchased another beer, finished off the last of a fine selection of samosas from the grocery store opposite one of the Kirkstall Lane End entrances, and smacked his lips in anticipation of the royal entertainment to come.
However, it was not to be. Ben Stokes took the ball for the resumption, ambled up the hill from the Football Stand End, delivered a loopy half-volley outside the off stump and the New Zealand captain smacked it in the air straight to Mark Wood at mid-off. The disappointment, even among a large contingent of England supporters, was tangible.
McCullum disappeared with no backwards look into the dressing room, six fours and a six in his locker, a strike rate of 146 to his name and a team now wobbling at 123 for four.
"Live by the sword, die by the sword," said the Cricinfo commentary of the time. "But that was silly."
By an enormous preamble this is the Smaximum (working title's)™ way of asking: "Is this the kind of man we want as England's Test coach?"
Leaving aside the fact that he has no red-ball coaching experience, do we really want someone in the dressing-room who may be inclined to say to Zak Crawley "unlucky, mate" after he too has slapped a half-volley to extra cover, mid-off or any of the other assorted positions he manages to find with this flamboyant drives, who encourages the England batsmen to be positive at all times, even when it might be inappropriate, who believes in taking the game to the opposition no matter what?
Don't England need lessons in crease occupation – boring as that sounds – and something they would have got in spades with Gary Kirsten, a batsman more nuggety than a McDonalds chicken happy meal, and until the last few days, the odds-on favourite to get the job?
It almost smacks of Rob Key, the England managing director of cricket, himself a left-field pick, having his head turned at the last minute by someone more glamorous and eye-catching, the woman in the floaty dress rather than garden slacks.
There is no doubt that the McCullum-Stokes combo will put bums on seats, but will those bums be on those seats for five days of a Test match, or only three and a half as England slip to heroic but inevitable defeat?
Nevertheless, the Smaximum (working title)™ can't help but admit to a strange sense of excitement in his bones, wondering whether he is being too quick to dismiss McCullum, at 40 still only 10 years older than England's latest captain. It's a vote for youth, relatively speaking, and England undoubtedly need new ideas.
McCullum is universally credited with turning New Zealand into world champions and it is certainly true that he forced an attitude change when he he was brought in to replace Taylor rather acrimoniously in 2013, but do the stats, so beloved of our game these days, stack up?
The answer is: not necessarily. In pure numerical terms, he is slightly less successful than Geoff Howarth, who captained a similar number of Tests in the early 1980s, only marginally more successful than Stephen Fleming and
Jeremy Coney but doubly so compared with Dan Vettori, whose reputation is better than he probably deserves.
Where New Zealand have really prospered has been in the Williamson era and, when he has been injured of late, the Latham one. Williamson has a win percentage of 57.89, Latham of exactly 50 (from nine Tests) and McCullum just 35.48.
Yet it is an argument that the wicketkeeper-batsman laid the template that those two are continuing or even extracting extra value from. For the first time, New Zealand, as a cricket nation rather than a rugby one, has belief in itself.
England's self-belief, especially that of their batting, Joe Root excepted, is at a similar low and a man does not make 12 Test match centuries with a triple and two doubles in the mix and a scoring rate of 64 per 100 balls without being able to also leave the right deliveries. If he can inspire that sort of mentality in a line-up that, with the likes of Crawley and Dan Lawrence, already yearns to get on the front foot, we could be about to enter a new golden era.
Besides, let's look back to that match at Headingley in 2015. What actually happened after McCullum's needless dismissal? Latham went on to get 84, Luke Ronchi followed his captain's lead with 88 from 70 balls and with exceptional contributions from BJ Watling, Guptill, and even Mark Craig in the second innings, New Zealand ran out winners by 199 runs. Even Williamson picked up three wickets in England's second innings – one of them that of Alastair Cook – with his soporific arcing off spin.
Williamson then, may have taken up the baton, but it was McCullum who found it discarded on the floor and passed it to him. The Smaximum (working title)™ hopes to be back at Headingley before too long as a McCullum-inspired England rediscover their way.
And if not, it will at least be fun and there will still be beer and samosas.
FROM ISSUE 3
CHRIS WOKE'S FORTNIGHTLY COLUMN
All right there, me ducks? It's Chris Woke here, Birmingham's premier fast-bowler-cum-social-justice-warrior. The good people at Guerilla Cricket have asked me to write a bi-weekly column. I've said we'll have to call it "pan-weekly" and that the word "column" will have to be replaced by something that doesn't pander to outdated notions of patriarchal dominance. But apart from that, I'm in.
It's been absolutely bostin' to see me muckers at the MCC change the Laws of Cricket to reflect modern society. "Batsman" is out and "batter" has walked out to take guard; meanwhile, "third man" has become "third". Quite right too and not before time. But, for me, the changes don't go nearly far enough.
Why, for example, do bats have a monopoly on cricket references when it comes to mammals in the game? It's scandalous! For centuries, these little critters have been lord-and-ladying it over their animal kingdom counterparts, while your monotremes, your rodents and your woodland dwellers have been cruelly black-and-white-balled. Well, not any more. Not on Woke's watch.
I have a proposal winging its way to the ICC, imploring them to make urgent reparations as we seek to integrate a greater diversity of mammalian life into the game.
For example, Nat Sciver's invented a new shot where she sweeps the ball so hard into the turf that it tunnels underground. From now on, it will be called The Mole (recently-retired team-mate Anya Shrewbsole is fully supportive). The Jerboa will be the term ascribed to Dan Lawrence's bowling action: an evolutionary hiccup, a ghastly chimera that really shouldn't exist. And Mark Cosgrove will henceforth be known as Walrus.
Until next time: cheerio, me ducks. And remember, if there's grass on the pitch…it simply means the groundsperson has assessed atmospheric conditions, loam quality and four-day weather forecast and prepared a strip that's conducive to an even contest between bat and ball.
ALSO FROM ISSUE 3
GUERILLA GUIDE TO TWITTER ETIQUETTE
Ever wondered why your tweets don't get read out, why they are paraphrased by skilful quality controllers or why your crass efforts to make us swear (not usually required when the Bear is at the Twitter helm) fail spectacularly? If so, we are happy to offer you a helping hand with the crucial things you have to keep in mind when putting fingers to keyboard. Follow the following rules and you could become a Twitter legend.
DON'T be too keen; the first 15 minutes of any game are chaos, especially if there is an inexperienced hand at the Twitter tiller. Try to time your tweets for non-peak periods.
DO aim for an ear-catching, eye-gouging Twitter handle. Some of our favourites are @Chasing Willow, @Senor Brain Damage, @Nice Smelling Baby and @Big Sex Barry. Senor Brain Damage doesn't have brain damage and Big Sex Barry may be big and called Barry, but is probably not sexy, but we like them anyway.
DO have a fascinating back story, like collecting swords or be living in a treehouse.
DON'T copy Guerilla Cricket into an ongoing conversation between you and another Twitter handle unless relevant to us. It clogs up our timeline with unwieldy discussions about Latin and opera.
DON'T send 20 tweets in ten minutes – it makes us looks as if we only have one listener.
DO send us 20 tweets in ten minutes if you ARE the only listener
DO go off on a tangent: cats, crisps and classic rock are always good discussion topics during tepid passages of play. And cheese. Always cheese.
DON'T ever refer to Pakistan as "mercurial" but remember that, whatever the stage of the match, England are always DOOOOOOOMED
DO check spelling and grammar unless, like the Bear, English is your second language
DO, and most important of all, be funny