Tuesday 8 September 2009

What we have lost

I watched Graham Napier bat for Essex in a Pro 40 game the other day. He made 60-odd from about 40 balls at number three. I got that deflated feeling when he was dismissed because he has that extra dimension, that indefinable something that marks him out.

He doesn't do it often, according to his average. Essex don't seem to be able to decide where to bat him. You could drive a truck through parts of his technique. Yet his talent is rare. It even sounds different when he hits the ball.

Napier is thirty now, so he might be lost to England beyond the T20 format. But perhaps more than anyone else, he exposes the paucity of vision in our one-day cricket.

The 50 over side has not just been moribund against Australia this summer, or at the last World Cup or the last Champions Trophy, or even at the ones before that. It's been a generation of utter mediocrity, of wasted time and wasted careers. In a decade when batting has been redefined, England have singularly failed to identify players who can push out past the norms and conventions.

England's selectors tend to spend a lot of time looking at what players lack, at what's not there. It's the orthodox view. Instead, they could start from the point of the problem and work backwards. They could ask, 'who can hit the ball?' and build on that. Identify what's there rather than what's not.

Napier's probably not good enough to make it as an international player now, but he is talented enough. There's a subtle difference.  The same could be said of other hitters: Ian Blackwell, Dimi Mascarenhas, Ali Brown, James Benning. 

Yesterday Rory Hamilton-Brown, who's 22, walked out at Hove and smacked an average Notts attack around for a while. There's plenty that Brown can't do against better bowling, but he hit the ball harder and cleaner than anyone else except perhaps Dwayne Smith. It's a place to start, and god knows, watching England peck around for 250-odd ad infinitum, a start is what we need. 

And Napier can bowl at 90mph, too...

NB: Napes is on TV again now, playing for Essex against Somerset. He's sporting a fierce pair of sideys. He's just yorked Marcus Trescothick and hit Justin Langer on the shoulder first ball. 


Brit said...

Strauss, Bopara, Prior, Shah, Collingwood, Morgan.

Has any of the major cricketing nations EVER fielded a less formidable top 6?

It's painful.

Brian Carpenter said...

It seemed very harsh on Napier to be selected for the World T20 and then given no opportunity to show what he could do. The fact that he wasn't selected probably indicated what Flower (despite, or rather because of, his Essex connections) thought of him. His time has probably gone now.

Rory Hamilton-Brown is a different proposition. Young, fundamentally orthodox but with a lot of class and aggression (if not the shot selection, yet), he's definitely one to watch.