Saturday 8 January 2011

Meet The New Boss: England player-by-player

'When we were good, we were good enough,' said Andrew Strauss at the Oval in 2009, and he was right. It was hard to imagine anything other than a bit of nip and tuck this time, too, but then, as the old saying goes, it's called Test cricket for a reason...

Andrew Strauss
307 runs at 43.85, 1x100, 3x50
'One day you'll thank me for this,' Duncan Fletcher whispered in Strauss's shell-like when he made the weary decision to give the captaincy of the tour that dare not speak its name to Andrew Flintoff. It's one of those sentences that usually makes the recipient want to insert a slim knife through the eye and into the brain of the speaker, and yet there is truth in it. Strauss and Flower are the right men at the right time. The prevailing view on his captaincy is that it is functional, and yet it was he who suggested the broad strategy of drying Australia up that brought such dividends. It cuts against current batting mentality, as Strauss observed at Adelaide in 2006 when he was on the sharp end of it. With a pleasing perversity, he refused to yield to anything of the sort himself and slashing the third nut of the series to gully didn't alter his thinking. That's ballsy. The second innings hundred at Brisbane and the 60 in Sydney set a ruthless agenda.

Alastair Cook
766 runs at 127.66, 3x100, 2x50
Australia were undone by the least Australian person on earth. Justin Langer thought James Anderson was a pussy, so it's probably best that his view of the pre-tour Cook went unrecorded. Delicately boned, cow-eyed and from a good school he may be, but England have always believed, however hard the faith was tested. He entered a zone of piercing clarity in Brisbane and stayed there, resident of a nirvana that might never appear for so long again. At least he has known it once. Like Anderson, he fiddled with his natural technique before returning to what made him good in the first place. You don't need a trigger movement to know which balls to leave, just confidence and discipline. Still only 25, the bastard.

Jonathan Trott
445 runs at 89.00; 2x100, 1x50
Scratch, scrape, scratch, take block, stand up, scrape, take block, hit ball, repeat. Forever. The Trotters' guard is a thing of weird juju and obsessive-compulsive ritual probably best set to Dance Of The Knights, so epic is its scale. Rarely are neurotics so tough, too. His back foot bunt through wide mid-on is as spectacular and singular in its way as the Dilscoop or the Flamingo. Try it yourself in the nets if you disagree. Mitchell Johnson foundered on the rocks of the Trotters psyche.

Kevin Pietersen
360 runs at 60.00; 1x100, 1x50; 1 wicket at 16.00
Just as Spinal Tap were reborn with their performance of Derek Smalls' Jazz Odyssey, so the newer, older, maybe wiser KP played an innings of shimmering class in Adelaide. The follow-up 50-odd in Melbourne was beautifully judged too. Flower and Strauss could now ask him to lead the batting in the same way that Anderson leads the bowlers. While the hook at Johnson's bouncer in Sydney may have looked like a throwback brain-fade, there's more to it. Johnson also did Bell and Collingwood with his short one. It comes from a low arm but somehow ends up above the batsman's eye-line right at the death, its danger compounded by the fact that danger is hardly Mitch's middle name. The one wicket, of Michael Clarke, was priceless in many respects.

Paul Collingwood
83 runs at 13.83; 2 wickets at 36.50
Getting teary just thinking about him. His runs and wickets are replaceable, but as his team-mates have said, Colly offers less definable, less common qualities too. The grab to dismiss Ponting joins the Hayden catch at Bristol in the file marked 'immortal'. The last couple of days at Sydney were like watching the end of Old Shep. Countries are built by men like this.

Ian Bell
329 runs at 65.80, 1x100, 3x50
Timing is everything, especially for Ian Bell. Not just in the enviable beauty of his shotmaking, but in being part of an era of tolerance and belief. Had he played a generation earlier, he might well have been as enigmatic as Hick or Ramprakash. He almost certainly would have failed consistently against the bowling that haunted them, and in the ramshackle side that they played. Should not move above five, and should not see that as a defeat - Steve Waugh didn't, after all.

Matthew Prior
252 runs at 50.40, 1x100, 1x50; 23 ct
Cricket writers of a certain age experience occasional printed yearnings for the days when a keeper was selected to keep - even when Knott was in the side they dreamed of Keith Andrew and Bob Taylor - but those years are distant things. Prior has learned to keep while in the Test team, and he's powerfully athletic now. They payoff comes with that broadsword of a bat, especially when the coup de grace is required. The only mystery now is why he's not in the ODI side.

Tim Bresnan
11 wickets at 19.50; 39 runs at 19.50
'England are better with a Yorkshireman in the side,' said Geoffrey Boycott [somehow omitting the words 'called Geoffrey Boycott' from the middle of the sentence] and booger me, he weren't wrong. Blessed with the quality of being 'thick as two short planks' [according to Swann] Bresnan possesses other assets too, including the traditional fast bowler's backside and the strength and power to run in hard all day. These things we knew about: the artfulness he brought to his reverse swing bowling was a glorious surprise. Add solid late-order biffing and you have a formidable contender for a permanent place.

Graeme Swann
15 wickets at 39.80; 88 runs at 22.00
Swann will perhaps never have a greater compliment paid to him than the pitches Australia prepared to negate him. His figures won't tell the story of his tour: buried deep in them is a match-winning spell at Adelaide that beat the rain by vital moments, and all of the hard yakka of tying Australia down. His 219.1 overs were the most on either side, and they cost just 2.72 runs each. Immaculate at slip, too. He is the spirit of the team, and the Swann-Anderson Bromance remains a tender thing, captured in his Brokeback Mountain-inspired video diaries.

James Anderson
24 wickets at 26.04; 22 runs at 4.40
When Swanny is commissioned [as he surely will be] to direct the Jimmy Anderson biopic, the scenes on this tour will be set to 'I had the time of my life': the burst at Adelaide that opened up Australia, the dash home for the birth of his daughter, the heroics at Sydney despite a virus that had him falling asleep in the dressing room after the game. He is now a major player in world cricket, a bowler of beguiling grace and skill.

Chris Tremlett
17 wickets at 23.35; 19 runs at 6.33
A body permanently on the edge of injury, a face on the brink of tears, the young Tremmers was - as former Hampshire team-mate Shane Warne recalled - unplayable in the nets and invisible on the pitch. Yet the move to Surrey, a mature mind and physique and the confidence of Flower and Saker have allowed him to become the bowler he always looked like he could be. As one of those who never thought he'd make it, I've never been more happy to be proven wrong. England will probably only ever need four bowlers when three of them are Anderson, Tremlett and Swann.

Steve Finn
14 wickets at 33.14; 3 runs at 3.00
May worry about how he fits back into the side in the short-term, but he shouldn't. He is really a member of the next generation rather than this one, and England's stocks look rich. Didn't fall over, either, which was good.

Stuart Broad
2 wickets at 80.50; 0 runs
Cruel injury, but it's an ill wind, and he will be fresh for the World Cup. Will have much more Ashes cricket too, and can go back to his best position as first change behind Anderson and Tremlett.

Next time: Australia player-by-player.


Richard T said...

A really interesting article about the England side and very well written indeed.

I am also a cricket fanatic and have a blog on this website. As I am following you please could you follow me. Cheers.

Brit said...

Good to see you're more generous with your marks than stingy Richard Hobson in The Times. He gave Anderson 8 and Bell and Tremlett 7.

Am on absolute tenterhooks about your Mitch Johnson review.

Rob said...

I think 7 for Swann was a bit mean. They prepared wickets especially so he couldn't get them out -- and he still had them crapping themselves.

The Old Batsman said...

Poor old Jim - dunno what he has to do to please R Hobson then... Rob, true am perfectly willing to give himan 8 or a 10 or whatever he wants!

Chelsea 101 - will blogroll you, cheers

Pay per head said...

I liked so much this post of yours, the analysis of the England players were very detailed, congrats and keep it up my friend!