So, England came close to declaring on Ian Bell when he was 98 not out. What stopped them was Andrew Strauss's argument that a mood of 'melancholy' might be created around the team. As melancholy is an important emotion in life and one woven into the fabric of the game, it was good to see Strauss's England respect its influence and get their unlikely reward.
There's an obvious parallel with Sydney 1995, when Mike Atherton pulled the plug on England's second dig with Graeme Hick on the same score. That was an extraordinary, weather-affected game too, eventually drawn after first Australia looked like they'd chase England down and then fell in a heap before clinging on. 'Atherton lost patience and ungenerously declared,' the Almanack thundered. 'He had batted far more slowly himself'.
There was plenty of support for Atherton's decision at the time, though. There was a view that the England team needed steel, a kind of Australian-style macho, no-bullshit, no-frills, low indulgence of the individual which in turn would make the unit stronger.
It did not allow a lot of room for melancholy, although there was always plenty around Hick, and around Atherton, too. It's a worldview that seems very 90s now. In cricket, more than almost any other team game, it is about the individual. It has to be. There's no point pretending that individual achievement doesn't matter, or that the team must always take precedence. Instinctively, Strauss, with the team in mind, invested in Ian Bell's happiness. It was a decision that might not have paid off in the short term, but it was guaranteed to at some point, because as Strauss understood, it would have made every individual in the team feel good.
Sometimes, you just get back what you give out. Athers and Strauss did when they made their different calls.
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