Hooking... Ntini not the wisest way to attack

By Henry Blofeld
Sunday 06 October 2013 17:33

While not wanting to kick people when they are down, another illustration of the hopelessness or maybe helplessness, of England's batsmen was their refusal to realise the folly of hooking or pulling at Makhaya Ntini.

Five batsmen were out playing that particular stroke against him without there being any apparent realisation that it was not the wisest way in which to attack Ntini.

One of the eternal mysteries of cricket is at what point does a pull become a hook and vice versa. For the purposes of this piece they will assume synonymity. The point is that Ntini skids the ball onto the batsman quicker than he expects.

After England had been put in on Thursday, the new captain, Michael Vaughan, was the first victim. He played the stroke to a ball that climbed high and was anyway difficult to control. He was only partly through the stroke when the ball arrived and he holed out to fine leg off the top edge. Alec Stewart then mishooked another into the hands of square leg while Flintoff top-edged to deep square leg. All three had been caught out by Ntini's skid. It was Ian Fleming who wrote that 'Once was happenstance, twice was coincidence, and three times open warfare.'

Surely the coach should have had a quiet word with the batsmen and suggested that while it might be sensible to play the hook against some bowlers, it should not be employed against Ntini.

At the second time of asking it was Marcus Trescothick, who could not resist the stroke against Ntini and was brilliantly caught by Paul Adams at square leg. On the fourth day it was Nasser Hussain who skied a catch to the wicket keeper.

Steve Waugh, on the other hand, considered that it was not a percentage shot for him and ruthlessly cut it out of his repertoire. It takes a strong character to do that - and England urgently need a few of those.

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