Tim Bresnan: England's lucky charm
Dismissed early on as a "chubby lad from Pontefract", Tim Bresnan has now won all 10 Tests he has played for England and deserves his place as an authentic Ashes hero. He talks to Stephen Brenkley
Ten Test matches, 10 wins, a batting average of 46.43, a bowling average of 23.61 – statistics to dream of. And who can be the progenitor of these improbable figures, the basis of formidable sporting legend? It is Tim Bresnan, once all but dismissed as a chubby lad from Pontefract, now rapidly gaining credence as an authentic international all-rounder.
No doubt Bresnan will know what it is like to lose a Test match one day. Only Eldine Baptiste, for the West Indies, had an entire career consisting of as many wins; only Adam Gilchrist, whose first 15 matches all brought victory for Australia, had a better start.
"I must be a lucky charm, I guess," said Bresnan, reflecting on being part of the team of the year. "I feel very lucky to be part of this Test side; sometimes you have to pinch yourself about how lucky. It's quite easy to come into a team that's doing well, everyone firing on all cylinders, momentum behind you. It has been immense, knowing you have got guys who will perform around you if it doesn't quite go according to plan."
For all the apparently talismanic quality, being one of the Ashes heroes and a member of the side which became number one in the Test world last summer, Bresnan is still not the first name on the England team sheet. He may not be fourth, fifth or, when the next series against Pakistan begins next month, the 11th.
England's bowling resources are plentiful and a combination in which Bresnan does not feature (say Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn or Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann) is possible to envisage. But it will need considerable thought.
Bresnan has come a long way from the stocky chap who was first picked by England for one-day internationals in the summer of 2006 and was propelled to all parts by Sanath Jayasuriya and Co. Many were prepared to write him off then.
Sure, he had made his debut for Yorkshire at 16, but somehow Bresnan did not look like an international bowler (and nobody assumed him to be an international batsman). The build, the crinkly hair, the sideburns conspired to make him look like the blacksmith from the village green out of his depth on the international stage.
"I don't think it was necessarily a case of getting better," he said. "It was more self-belief. I certainly needed to work on my game, because otherwise you just go backwards, but I kept telling you guys the best was yet to come."
He came back leaner, stronger, fitter and played his maiden Test in 2009, still lacking many supporters outside the selection room. The performances were nothing much to write home about and it was not until his second Test match and his 25th over that he took his first Test wicket.
England were winning the matches in which he appeared, however, partly because the quality of the opposition – the West Indies and Bangladesh – was lamentable. Then came Australia last winter.
"I was surprised to be selected for Australia. I thought I had hauled myself into contention, but that was it. To get picked I had to force my case in the nets and then I got an opportunity at Melbourne and feel as though I took it."
Took it? He grabbed it with both hands and wrapped it up in gilt-edged paper. Bresnan was selected to play in the Fourth Test at Melbourne on Boxing Day after England had lost the third in Perth to leave the series at 1-1.
By the end of the first day, Australia had been bowled out for 98 and Bresnan had two of the wickets. In the second innings he had four more. England romped home, as they did the following week in Sydney in a start to their year which was beyond all but the most optimistic imaginations. Bresnan had another bagful of wickets and England had the Ashes.
Hours after play finished at the SCG, the England team went out into the middle to chat about what had gone before. Watching on then it looked a special moment – and it was, as Bresnan confirmed.
"You don't get many times like that," he said. "Thinking about it, I've got goose bumps. It is difficult to imagine. I think it will take something to beat Melbourne and Sydney. It didn't sink in until well after – well after the World Cup, I think.
"You get home and there was no real fanfare or anything like that. We just got stuck into the summer. I don't think we realised how alive the country was to cricket until we did get back, and it was fantastic to see."
Bresnan is recovering from an elbow operation at present. A bone fragment was discovered after he suffered severe discomfort during the one-day series in India in October. He will be fully recovered by the time England leave on 2 January. Having had two months off, they are now on duty again for 18 months virtually without a break.
"I think I'm ready for it," he said. "It would be stupid to think you're going to play for a year and a half without anything going on. Touch wood it won't, but it's part and parcel of it, the schedule, how much we play and train and the rigours it puts on your body.
"It's not just your body, it's your mind as well. If you do play every game without a rest, there's more chance of you breaking down. Bowling's hard and I don't think people realise how hard it is. I play all three forms of the game and while I wouldn't have it any other way, you have got to manage things because it can take its toll.
"Yes, it's bad when injuries come around but you have to look at the other implications as well and think, 'Well, you've got a bit of time to get over things that have been niggling, take a break and refresh your mind. I missed three weeks in the summer with a calf injury and didn't play against Sri Lanka. Probably without that break I wouldn't have had as good a summer." Bresnan came back into the side for the final three matches against India, helping England to a series sweep and the number one ranking. At Trent Bridge, he took his first five-wicket haul in Test matches and scored 90 at a real lick. He looked an all-round cricketer.
"When you have got obvious class at the other end it helps massively," he said. "I think it has been a huge contribution to our success, bowling as a unit.
"I have always bowled really good spells and been consistent for Yorkshire but without pressure at the other end it's like, 'See Bres off and then we're away again, we'll build our momentum back up' – but there's no let-up in the England side."
Bresnan's major strength as a cricketer is his sheer steadiness, and his jovial, solid presence in the dressing-room has often been alluded to by the coach, Andy Flower. It is no better personified than in one-day cricket, where he is the poor sap who has to bowl most of his overs in power plays, when the fielders are all close to the bat. He has inevitably gone for a few, but he simply walks back to the mark and bowls the next ball.
"I'm allowed to say what I want and then do as the captain tells me."
Bresnan has become a more clever bowler, subtle variations of pace and movement making the batsman think. But his relentless accuracy helps. "That's the fundamental thing of cricket still, hit the top of off stump," he said.
It would be foolish in the extreme to disagree with his assessment. There is plenty more to come.
Record breakers: best test career starts
In winning all of his first 10 Test matches, Tim Bresnan broke the previous England record, set by Andrew Strauss with eight.
Sri Lankan batsman Thilan Samaraweera and Australian bowler Brett Lee also won their first 10 games in the five-day format.
Eldine Baptiste's 10 from 10 in the great West Indian side of the 1980s accounted for the whole of his Test career.
The all-time record holder, Adam Gilchrist, was on the winning side in his first 15 Tests for Australia. Second in the list is another Australian, Stuart Clark, who was victorious in his first 13 Tests.
Bresnan in numbers
5/48 Best bowling figures in both Test matches and ODIs, both against India this year
0/20 Inauspicious bowling figures on his debut v Sri Lanka in a T20 in 2006
63 Test batting average in 2011 – highest score was 90 against India
126* Highest first-class score – for England Lions against an Indian touring side in 2007
19.09 Test bowling average in 2011 – the all-rounder claimed 21 wickets
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