In Gideon Haigh's book Inside Out there's an essay called Fabian Batsmanship, a lovely, subtle piece about the subtlest of arts: leaving the ball. It is, he writes, 'the exchange of an advantage so small as to be in most cases almost immeasurable'. This is brilliant, and true.
That advantage was more palpable than usual on saturday at the Rose Bowl when Kevin Pietersen left the ball with disdainful mastery. Then Kumar Sangakkara stayed inside the line of the swinging delivery so perfectly most of the crowd thought that he was playing and missing until they got home and turned on their televisions for the highlights.
But what is the bowling equivalent of the leave? How do they establish the same kind of tiny but incremental gain over a batsman? It's a pertinent question, especially for Stuart Broad, who is losing some torque on his Test career.
The blunt diagnosis is that he is not taking wickets. Yet unlike a batsman who is not getting runs, a bowler can still have a useful function while they wait for the gods to turn towards them again. They can block up an end, shut up shop and wait - or at least the best of them can. Think of Walsh, or Pollock, or McGrath. When they weren't running through teams - and they didn't always - they ratcheted down into a state of bloody-minded parsimony. They wouldn't have wrung their socks out over you at the end of play, let alone give away a run they didn't have to. They understood that this was their 'leave' - the exchange of an advantage so small as to be immeasurable, and one that would eventually alter the equation back their way.
Stuart Broad, like Steve Harmison before him, lacks that fallback position. When they're getting clouted, they can't seem to stop it happening. Harmi is a speck in the rear view mirror now, and Broad is approaching a crossroads. There are a lot of other quick bowlers coming up behind him. He has already been usurped by Tremlett, and if Onions had stayed fit and in form, Broad may not even be in the side right now.
The rhetoric from Dean Saker is not encouraging. The other day he called Broad 'a warrior'. It suggests that the team management want to massage his ego and still view him as the impact bowler that it's apparent he's not. England really don't need another Harmison. A Shaun Pollock would be infinitely preferable, because Broad has the potential. He just doesn't seem to know where his off stump is at the moment...
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