As homo-sapiens developed, our ancestors learned increasingly smart ways of surviving, which give them an edge over their predators. We became evidence of the theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Sometimes, an individual would flourish by a sort of regression to an earlier pattern of behaviour with temporary success. I write with one example of stone-age behaviour on my television screen, showing the new approach from the England cricket team.
The new captain, Ben Stokes, is at the crease, surviving, but in full twenty-twenty cricket mode. His team is facing almost certain defeat by their South African opponents. The plan is going seriously wrong.
The plan involves attacking ferociously regardless of conditions, including the skills and tactics of the opposition.
Stokes pursuing his plan lashes the ball to a waiting fielder. England are on the brink of a humiliating defeat.
What went wrong? I search my memory banks for other examples. I remember a well-known chess player who was accused of playing cave-man chess.
The romance of the caveman remains. For example, there is a whole school of chess today with followers learning about the approach
The initiator, Kevin Bachler, explains the origin of the name
The nickname Caveman and the concept of caveman chess was thrust upon Kevin in 1981. At the time he was an Expert, working to become a National Master. Kevin had just finished playing fellow Expert Jack Young at a tournament at the College of Lake County – a college that held a number of chess tournaments in the 1970’s through 1990’s.
Jack and Kevin were doing a post-mortem analysis, and FIDE Master Albert Chow walked up and was watching. The game was fairly tactical in nature, and Jack and Kevin were both willing to explore ideas that were “off-the beaten path”.
After a few minutes of watching, FM Chow shook his head and said to Kevin “You play stone age chess. You play like a caveman!” Of course, Kevin’s friends immediately ran with this and the nickname “Caveman” was born.
However, my own recollection, from this side of the Atlantic, is of an English caveman, Michael Basman, a contemporary of mine, who went on to become an international master, and one of the most imaginative players of his time. I can do better than quote the Wikipedia summary of his unorthodox style.
He is a prolific writer, who has made many contributions to the field of chess openings, and is particularly known for frequently choosing bizarre or rarely played openings in his own games, including the St. George Defence (with which English Grandmaster Tony Miles once famously defeated the then World Champion Anatoly Karpov), the Grob (for Black and White) and also The Creepy Crawly.
You get the basic idea. Kevin and Michael were opponents of playing following conventional rules. They did so by developing ingenious ways of defeating the conventional.
Turning back to cricket, the analogy partially holds. In an earlier published podcast, I suggested cricket leadership often followed as sequence in which a more radical leader replaces a more traditional one, only got the sequence to repeat itself. Perhaps, I suggested, it is a pattern to be found in the appointment of Popes.
In chess, at least, the caveman tactics can be assessed for its effectiveness. In overview there was an early epoch in which even the strongest chess players aimed for all out attack, whether playing white or black, and regardless of the strength of the players.
But in time, the strongest players established the benefits of balancing attack and defence. A few remained to delight other chess players with their romantic approach, but the best results went the the players repaired to stick to the principles they were discovering.
In short, the current plan of the English cricket team is the relic of a bygone age. Romantic, enjoyable to watch, but ultimately in need of serious rethinking.
As I write, the last England wicket falls. Sky fills in the time with transmission of the 100, a new form of cricket which is regressing to an earlier romantic form, a hybrid of cricket and baseball.