Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Melancholy and the infinite sadness of Ian Bell

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.


diogenes said...

great post! i think that Atherton's memoirs say he took the wrong decision. It is tough. if the aussies had declared while Dirk Wellham got to his delayed century in 1981, Australia might just have won that Test match and made the series a tie.

empedocles said...

the real question is ...does anyone think that Hick would have cut it as an inernational batsman if he had finally achieved that century....or do we all agree that he was no more than a flat-track bully of lesser bowlers a la Martyn Hayden

Vaibhav Sharma said...

A team which is a happy family can go very far in cricket and Strauss has taken a step closer to that.

John Halliwell said...

Very interesting post, OB. I haven't read Atherton's account of the Hick incident, but did his decision reflect his apparent 'pissed-offness' with the squad he had been given and a lack of team spirit? Devon Malcolm, recalling the tour, wrote: "Atherton gave the appearance of being fed-up of being lumbered with a group of players who wouldn't have all been his preferred choices. Getting sniped at by Illingworth (Chairman of Selectors) from afar didn't help either" Perhaps even the equable Strauss would have struggled to be understanding with Hick in the circumstances faced by Atherton. It's also worth remembering that this was the third Test of the series, with England already 2-0 down.

I suppose the advent of central contracts and the concept of 'Team England' is another factor, with, perhaps, the team with one voice saying "Ian must be given at least two overs"

Sir Ian was clearly irritated by Strauss's decision and I think he asked how would it look if the Sri Lankans were nine down at the end of the match. What would Brearley have done in similar circumstances, with Botham in Bell's overnight position?

Tim Newman said...

As things turned out, Strauss should have waited until Morgan got his ton.

Anonymous said...

Well observed. Strauss may be no Brearley, but I think the move was dual purpose. Not just the avoidance of melancholy, but wrong-footing the opposition. What could be more suprising than a captain who wants to brutalise the opposition, but is prepared to delay the moment for an apparently anti-strategic purpose? No wonder they were all as confused as can be.

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

Couldn't agree more with Struass' decision, he clearly took a long term view and England have invested heavily in Bell - so why start to undo all that work?

I didn't see it as I was away on holiday, but I was following it on TMS amongst other things and could almost hear Botham slagging the decison when I heard what had happened - and from what I can gather from John Halliwell's comment, Botham wasn't too impressed with the decision.

How many times has he used the 'how would it have looked if the opposition were nine down at the end of the match,' line?

Thankfully for England the short sighted Botham went into the media after retirement, rather than getting involved with the team.

Great player, yes. He is also the greatest captain England has ever had in a commentary box.

RS Radio said...

It's all about good man-management. I think the England camp these days is a very supportive environment.

Rob said...

If he had declared with Bell on 98 it would just have been wrong -- just as it was when Atherton did it. I think Straus would have lost a lot of respect and maybe players wouldn't have gone that extra mile for him.