Come in number three, your time is up
Three is the magic number. For as long as I can remember, it is also the batting position that is said to be:
a) most important;
b) most coveted; and
c) most troublesome.
Any England watchers over the last twenty-five years would certainly agree with c). The idea that the number 3 three slot is the most coveted seems highly unlikely, though even cricketers get sucked in by received wisdom and occasionally opine about their desire to bat there.
The point most open to question is whether first drop is really the most important place in the line-up. Nobody would doubt that it can be a deep psychological blow to a team when the first wicket falls and the next man in is regarded as unreliable. The emergence of Jonathan Trott over the last few years has been integral to the sense of confidence that has run through England’s batting.
Yet focussing on the performance of the number three is much less necessary when openers are racking up century stands and the middle order can be sure to pull their weight. Whoever takes the berth in Adelaide should not be under any more pressure than the rest of the top seven to engineer an English comeback.
Selectors shouldn’t follow the example of school masters
P.E. teachers – at least to my memory – tended to make judgements about individuals’ ability/position/favoured sport by a quick glance at their physique. Fat boys were obviously stuck in the front row of the scrum; small skinny kids were bound to like football and be able to run fast down the wing; glasses or curly hair might indicate a proficiency in spin bowling (or table tennis).
It feels increasingly like the England selectors took the same approach when picking bowlers for this tour. They remembered what happened last time, they noted the hard Aussie pitches and they cast around their little black books for the tallest blokes in or around the international set-up. Never mind that Tremlett is some way from his peak, Finn has problems that need ironing out and Rankin is untested.
All the while – and the Light Roller doesn’t like to bang on about it (much) – the best bowler in school, Graham Onions, has been sent off on a solo cross-country run.
Sledging needn’t be a dirty word
Sledging is a funny old thing. Or at least it can be. To those on the field anyway.
I once played with a left-arm seamer from the north-east who had developed a nice line in expressions of approval when his fellow bowlers beat the edge or induced a false stroke. ‘Stringless guitar that one, Steve’ came the cry from fine leg as his opening partner nipped one away. Over the course of a season batsmen were bemused by gentle variations on the theme – ‘skinless drum’, ‘keyless piano’, ‘reedless sax’ etc etc ad nauseam. All unplayable and all fairly witless.
Gleeful predictions of broken arms are a far cry from those hilarious – and remarkably non-confrontational – student days. But professional cricketers play for high stakes in a sometimes fevered atmosphere and exchanging choice words is part and parcel of the game. It would just be nice if they could at least attempt a bit of humour alongside their expletives.
When is a West Indian not a West Indian?
Brendan Nash had a surprising international career when at the age of 30 he turned out to be West Indian. As the Kevin Pietersen of Jamaican cricket, his inclusion raised a few eyebrows but at least he brought a bit of steel to the Windies’ batting line-up.
However, his appearance was as nothing compared to the bizarre warm-up game between a “New Zealand XI” and the touring “West Indians” in Lincoln, NZ last week. The New Zealand team did indeed include eleven home players. As for the West Indians, they were evidently a little short given that most of the squad were still involved in a one-day series against India. So, in the fashion of a club who turn up for a game minus a carload who got lost off the B138, the West Indians borrowed 6 locals to make up the numbers.
In their heyday, five West Indians may have been a match for a fully-equipped opponent. Nowadays, not so much.