One of the rarest sights in cricket is a pair of English middle order batsmen putting on a big partnership. Such was the frequency of batting collapses during England innings, it was thought for a while that the middle order batsman had in fact become extinct during the 1990s, reportedly due to exposure to Shane Warne/Curtly Ambrose/reverse swing. Should you see England go from 190/2 to 215 all out, don’t be alarmed, it’s the norm.
This sort of occurrence has happened on so many occasions, it doesn’t seem right to say it’s a technical thing, else Paul Collingwood and his shovel shot would have been ditched many series ago. The only analogy I can come up with to describe these spectacular collapses is that England’s batting line up is similar to a pack of Covenant Grunts in the video game Halo. When their Elite leader is killed by the player, they start to panic (“Leader dead! Run away!”), cease firing at the player and run around in a frenzy. In the case of England, when the prized wicket (say Strauss or Atherton back in the day) falls, they all seem to lose their heads.
I’d like to be able to say that the middle order now fills me full of positive thoughts, but it still managed to happen against Pakistan this summer, although Pakistan proceeded to spend the series trying and succeeding in outdoing them in the flakiness department.
At least the question of who bats at number three doesn’t appear to be hovering around like the bad smell it was in 2009.
Following an underwhelming series in South Africa, Jonathan Trott suddenly became the luxury part of the England set up whose value gets questioned. Ian Bell’s routine bullying of Bangladesh’s bowling attack and the dilemma of whether to use five bowlers or four led to some suggesting that he wasn’t really needed – this despite a rather good double century at Lord’s.
As it turned out, it was Bell’s metatarsal which gave way rather than Trott’s place in the team and he ended up being part of the most memorable eighth wicket stand in recent history. Never mind that his cover drive isn’t quite as slick as Bell’s or that he lacks the swagger (read: punchable face) of Ravi Bopara, his composure out in the middle acts as the foundation on which he builds an innings. However, this does mean that you lose half a session of play, as he likes to take guard as often as MCC members are likely to fall asleep at Lord’s.
Idiosyncrasies aside, I’m a big fan of Trott. His consistency in the County Championship gave merit to his selection, rather than some old duffers bigging up their county friends, and he has so far justified it by providing us with some important innings, be they to hold out for a draw or set up a victory. Perhaps my favourite thing about him is the way he gets under the opposition’s skin. South Africa weren’t too pleased with his guard taking when they were trying to take wickets against the clock, Bangladesh’s seamers didn’t even allow him the opportunity to look up before starting their run ups, and his antics against Pakistan didn’t exactly endear him to their players (Umar Akmal and Wahab Riaz in particular) or supporters.
What tops it off for me however, is that he looks like a really dour version of Russell Crowe with thinning hair. Nuts to Shane Warne comparing him to Vince Vaughn, I could never see him leaning away from a bouncer before going back to check his guard. Trott taking his guard reminds me of Maximus in Gladiator rubbing the dust of the arena between his hands before battle, whilst the music when the gladiators unexpectedly win in the Coliseum played in my head when he reached his hundred against Pakistan at Lord’s.
Hopefully he doesn’t look as uncomfortable in Australia as he did in the Wanderers Test earlier this year.
Whilst I am happy to lavish praise upon Maximus Trottimus, there is concern about Kevin Pietersen in the run up to this series. You have to go back to the tour of the West Indies to see the last time he scored a Test century, an astounding feat for a batsman renowned for his ability to meet bowling attacks head on. Watching him charge limply down the track against Pakistan’s bowlers was painful to watch at times, as he was clearly struggling, but was so far down the track that the umpires were unable to put him out of his misery and declare him LBW.
Nonetheless, despite his batting slump, you have to give Pietersen credit for knowing how to make sure no one forgets about him. Be it the infamous Twitter rant, branding some nobody called John Buchanan a ‘nobody’, and the kerfuffle about playing for Hampshire being impractical for a Chelsea boy like himself, there hasn’t been a dull moment this summer involving Pietersen off the field, an excellent diversion of attention away from his average as it slips slightly further below 50.
A stint in South African domestic cricket, involving work with old coach Graham Ford has left him feeling ‘fantastic’, possibly the missing cog in the gears which Pietersen switched through to produce those memorable innings in 2005.
Ian Bell’s summer proved to be fruitful, either side of a broken foot, that is. Whether he will cope any better in Australia than in 2006/7 is something which will have to wait until the series begins. Needless to say, with Shane Warne commentating on Sky Sports, you can bet your bottom dollar on the ‘Sherminator’ nickname being mentioned every time he plays and misses at a wide delivery.
Paul Collingwood is currently in danger of being out-nurdled by Maximus Trottimus, so it will necessitate a comedy England batting collapse in order to bring out the best in Collywobble. Will also be sharing the duty of trundling dibbly dobbly bowler with Trott should Australia’s batsmen all find form at the same time and be 3,000,000/4 at lunch on the third day of the first Test.
I’ve already grown bored of this slow start to the blog, so I’ll simply say this about Eoin Morgan – stop top edging that reverse sweep of yours.