Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Gentleman's relish

'I'd love to'.

Those were the words of the 41-year-old Colin Cowdrey when Mike Denness phoned him from Australia to enquire as to whether he'd like to jump on a plane and bat up the order against Lillee and Thomson in 1974-5. 'We've had a few injuries, you see,' Denness explained. 

'He turned up at the airport in a pinstripe suit,' Tony Greig recalled. 'And when he opened his case, it was the first time I'd really seen padding'.

'When he got out to the middle,' Jeff Thomson said, 'he walked up to me with his hand out and he said, 'pleased to meet you, I'm Colin Cowdrey...' I said, 'I don't think that's gonna help you, fatso...'

As Cricinfo notes, Cowdrey 'did as well as anyone else' against the terrible two, which wasn't that well, but then he was 41 and as Thommo delicately observed, fat.

One thing Cowdrey had underneath the avuncular cuddliness and public school manners was a relish for battle. He wasn't faking. Sky showed their excellent film about the series again tonight while the rain washed out the T20 quarter-final at Old Trafford. Just before they did, they dragged Justin Langer and Marcus Trescothick from the visiting Somerset side into the studio for a chat, too.

Langer talked about why he missed Test cricket, recalling a spell that Flintoff bowled at him and Tresco in a county match last year. 'We were pumped, mate,' he said. 'The ball's up under your throat, it's horrible to face him. It was like being back in a Test match,' and while he said it, his gimlet eyes gleamed. He wasn't faking either, and neither was Tresco, who always found the onfield stuff the easiest.

All of this brought to mind Ian Bell, who once again talked about his 'presence' ahead of his return to England's middle order. It made me think that Bell's still getting it wrong. Somewhere along the line, he has become convinced [or has been convinced] that the way he can improve in Test cricket is to to generate some kind of image or aura that accompanies him out there to the crease. 

He's putting the cart before the horse. Bell is physically unimposing, but then so were Allan Border, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. So are Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Mohammed Yousuf, Ronnie Sarwan, Shiv Chanderpaul and plenty of others. They're not bothered by nebulous notions of 'aura' or 'presence' either. Their presence comes from the weight of runs they've scored, from the job that they've done.

As Langer explained quite beautifully, everyone gets nervous, everyone feels intimidated: 'Fast bowling's always worse in bed the night before,' he said. 'It's about controlling the emotions. That what separates international players'.

Maybe Bell believes that 'presence' is his defence against this insecurity. Maybe his coaches believe that too. They're almost certainly wrong. When Andrew Strauss was choosing a role model, he picked Justin Langer. Bell could do worse than pick Sarwan or Jayawardene, those gently-blessed batsman who never worry about what they're not, and unobtrusively score their runs, day after day. Their relish for the game is perfectly expressed, and there's not a side in the world that doesn't respect them. 


Naked Cricket said...

That's a good call on the faking - when it's so obvious to us, why can't guys like Bell set it. Guess that's why he squints.

Tony.T said...

Good news for you.

"Mitchell Johnson is unplayable in the nets."

~~ Michael Clarke

The Old Batsman said...

Is that right... we should have mitch versus michael vaughan in the nets instead of edgbaston... winner takes all...

Brit said...

Unerring and insightful as ever, OB. I do tend to watch the game as drama - art rather than science - so I watch more for personalities than stats....But however you do it, in the end the thing is to score 400 or more runs in an innings, whether you go about it flamboyantly or crabbily.

Rob said...

unplayable? You mean he keeps bowling into the side netting?

Sean said...

Nope Bell is just plain second rate.

In the Lions unofficial test against OZ he walked across his stumps, today first day back and was again plumb in front.

Good players make mistakes all the time, but they tend to try to not repeat them.

Not good enough.