Secret calls and coded messages have been part and parcel of many sports for decades.
But in cricket? It’s just not heard of, and so England’s limited overs set-up is pushing the envelope with their series of secret signals that are displayed on the balcony.
In the Three Lions’ T20 series victory over South Africa, the team’s analyst Nathan Leamon was shown offering up a number of codes such as ‘2C’ and ‘4E’ on a clipboard from his position on the balcony.
It has not been confirmed specifically what those allude to, but the thinking is that these are a combination of types of delivery and fielding positions relating to each individual batsman – thus handing the team’s captain, Eoin Morgan, as much information as possible.
There are those who claim that the messages are against cricket’s unique gentlemanly code, however Morgan has defended the system as very much within the ‘spirit of the game’.
“There’s nothing untoward about it. It’s about maximising information that we’re taking in and measuring it against things: coaches’ recommendations, the data, things going on.
“I think captains are different. You get captains that enjoy the title and the power and the accolades that go with it. Then you have other captains that continue to be pushed and want to learn for the benefit of the team.”
The ECB, meanwhile, released a statement claiming that the system is a ‘live informational resource that the captain may choose to use or ignore as he wishes. They are not commands or instructions, and all decision-making takes place on the field.’
However, there are those who believe the on-field captain should be in sole charge of their side’s decision making out in the middle – including notably Michael Vaughan, the former England skipper who derided Morgan on Twitter.
“You’re telling me you can’t get that info privately? I like info but this is a step too far.”
The use of messages has been cleared by the match officials and anti-corruption personnel, and so England are able to continue with the system if they wish.
And if it proves successful, you can bet your bottom dollar that more teams will implement the tactic, and that coded signals will become a permanent fixture in cricket for the foreseeable future.
Play Calls are Nothing New
To be honest, it’s amazing that cricket has taken so long to adopt secret signals. This is a sport with mountains of data about a batsman’s strengths and weaknesses, where they like to hit the ball when they need quick runs and how/where they are liable to get out.
American football is perhaps the most prominent sport that uses coded messages. You’ll often see coaches gesturing wildly with their arms to signal the next play, as their quarterback communicates his intentions to his teammates.
In rugby union, a hooker will offer up some kind of coded call ahead of a lineout too to signal who he or she intends to throw the ball too, and in football the raised arm of a corner taker is supposed to identify his or her potential target.
You’ll see pitchers in baseball getting a visual clue or two about what ball to deliver, and in tennis – specifically the doubles – you might just see a player signal to their serving colleague what type of serve to hit using hand gestures behind his or her back.
There’s nothing unique or untoward about balcony signals in cricket, and indeed we expect them to become part of the furniture in years to come.