Monday, 27 June 2011

Cricket versus nature versus nurture

So England take their counter-intuitive leap into the dark with Alastair Cook at the Oval tomorrow. A man with an ODI strike rate of 71 will be opening the batting for the foreseeable future. Just like Oscar Wilde's wallpaper, either that strike rate will have to go, or he will.

Cook will be asked to play against nature in ratcheting up his hitting. The question is, by how much? It's an odd and indefinable one to answer, but it is a question that cricket asks all the time because, as the old cliche goes, it's the sort of sport that reveals character as often as it builds it.

Samit Patel is another man fighting his nature. The state of the fat professional cricketer is probably more complex than it's given credit for. It's pretty simple to get in the gym and re-engineer yourself if you want to, with all of the help that's on tap, so when it doesn't happen there have to be reasons why. On saturday, Patel, who has achieved some sort of arbitrary minimum standard that doesn't seem to have included losing much timber, was run out not attempting a run.

It was a slack dismissal for a slack cricketer. There are guys like Patel all across sport, guys whose efforts are approximate, who seem ambivalent to their talents and opportunities. They're almost there but not quite. Beneath the self-deprecating grins and all the rest of the image projection is something fragile, something fearful, something preventing them from taking that final step through the door. It can be tough to contemplate finding out what lies at the end of yourself.

Patel appears to be fighting a battle like that one; perhaps it's easier for him at the moment to have people say 'if only' than it is to find out. Bring in the shrinks. Not far from Bristol, scene of Samit's latest stand, an even more majestically-upholstered enigma has appeared like a galleon in full sail.

Clad in always flattering red spandex, hair teased into a mad omelette of tints and highlights, Mark Cosgrove opens the batting for Glamorgan, geographically and figuratively separated from the players he outshone as a kid - he was the Bradman Young Cricketer Of The Year in 2005. He's now about as popular with Cricket Australia as Simon Katich is, and they don't seem as inclined to unravel his mystery as England are with Patel's.

It's a mystery of a different kind, because Cosgrove seems at one with his nature. He is a supremely gifted batsman in all formats, easily as good as Usman Khawaja, far superior to David Warner, and with a touch of X-factor about him. He may not be an athlete, but his hands and eye are lethally fast. He parted company with South Australia last year at their behest ['we were unable to help him fulfill his full potential'] and then went to Tasmania to score a shedload of runs as they won the Sheffield Shield ['at times it looked like he was batting on a different wicket to the rest,' said his coach].

No, Cosgrove's problem is one of image - external rather than self. Quite patently he is worth the few extra runs he may give away in the field. It's just that Australia, in a rebuilding phase, can't be seen to be sanctioning a free-spirited attitude like his, which is ironic, given that his attitude is very Australian in its way. Cosgrove's self-image, unlike Patel's, doesn't need breaking down. I'd bet he'd be a lesser player without the excess pounds, because those pounds are expressing his need to be different and free.

There are no pat answers; a man's nature is complex, for all the nurturing it gets.


Anonymous said...

Would you write that way about Cosgrove if he was English though?

Cossie is far above most of the current young Aussie batsmen. If I compare him with Steve Smith technique wise, I feel sick.

I assume that CA just see him as doom for any marketing strategy - a bad role model - they can think of but as their main sponsor of cricket is KFC, you think he'd be perfect.

The Old Batsman said...

I would - in fact if he were English i'd have him in the limited over sides now, and I'd pencil him in as a long-term replacement for Strauss in the Test team. If he scores the runs, he can eat as much as he likes. He could be Trescothick-esque, I think...

John Halliwell said...

I agree OB. If you're good enough, you're fat enough. No! If you're fat enough, you're good enough. No! If you're talented enough, who gives a damn? Selectors, obviously.

Based on current selection criteria, the two great Colins, Cowdrey and Milburn, wouldn't have got near the current squad. Cowdrey didn't have to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood before trying to hit it a mile; his calmness and glorious timing were the essence of his greatness, and he was a superb slip fielder. I always felt his chubbiness was a problem of metabolism. He just didn't seem the pie-scoffing type. Cosgrove might be the new Milburn, in size and talent. What a prospect!

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diogenes said...

one word springs to mind - Milburn. A reasonable fielder at short leg but someone who could be relied upon to outscore the runs he might cost as a fielder, in a long game. Not sure about the limited over game though.