Am watching the cricket – Australia currently 48/0, needing another 183 to win. They’ll get ’em. Probably.
Anyhow, is all pretty depressing… can’t really not watch (it is the Ashes, after all), yet doing so is awful, crushing, and painful. See – to prove it, Cook just dropped a rank sitter at slip. 53/0. (Warner is a smug bastard, isn’t he? As for Rogers: poor man’s Simon Katich.)
So, here’s the plan. I’ll play at being a selector, and nudge today’s play into the background. Will surely be a happier way to pass the time. The team to select? Simple. My favorite England XI since the first time Tony Lewis welcomed me to a rainy Edgbaston on BBC 1. Let’s call that 20 years ago, even if I can dimly remember a day’s play or three further back in time.
Batters first, then:
1. Michael Atherton
The very first thing to say here is ignore that batting average. It sells Atherton woefully short. No, for the longest time, he was the England wicket the other team craved most of all – and, sure enough, the toughest one to get. He was forever tormented by a golden generation of vicious opposition fast bowlers (for a start, Wasim, Waqar, Ambrose and Walsh), he was habitually called upon to carry a weaker team, and, to boot, he nearly always had a wretched bad back. No matter: Atherton always and unfailingly made playing against him difficult. Watching him do so was a joy (wrote about it a while ago, as it goes).
2. Marcus Trescothick
If Atherton was more of a blocker, Trescothick was assuredly a biffer. Time after time (albeit, sadly, in too short an international career), he could be counted on to give England a rollicking good start. Most of all, by keeping it mighty simple. Whomever the bowler, whatever the match situation, Tresco stood upright and still… then bashed it to the rope. If he couldn’t really do something, he generally didn’t. Why bother – meaty cuts, swiveling pulls, and drives punched straight down the ground were plenty to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Before you even knew it, he had 70-odd by lunch, and the other lot were gasping for a sit down and some sandwiches.
3. Michael Vaughan (c)
For a man who found England, the first time he played for them, four wickets down with only two runs scored, Vaughan found many remarkable ways to put seasoned England watchers at ease. At his best, he made batting look like the easiest thing in the world, and, as captain, he always seemed to do with good vibes and encouragement what Nasser Hussain, before him, was more inclined to do with shouting and the stink eye. Vaughan scored a stack of ‘hard runs’ in Australia, and was even ranked the #1 batsmen in the world for a while. But for a dodgy knee or two, he could have stayed at the top for longer still.
4. Kevin Pietersen
If KP sometimes infuriates the hell out of people, it’s only because he has talent in such rare abundance that it seems as though he ought never fail. Sometimes – maybe even often – he’s miles better than his peers, playing shots for fun that lesser mortals don’t dream of trying. Yeah, he should probably have a higher batting average, and, sure, it would be lovely if the genius, monumental knocks came around a touch more frequently… But never mind all that. KP is special – and he works as hard as anyone to get better. When he’s in the mood, when he gets those feet moving, and when the occasion is big enough to deserve such a thing, he is thrilling and magnificent. And you can’t take your eyes off him.
5. Graham Thorpe
If you were scrambling around to find a word to describe England batsmanship, even with the greatest will in the world you probably wouldn’t settle on “serene.” (On more sober days, “hapless” comes more quickly to mind.) Yet it’s just about perfect for Graham Thorpe. He didn’t do bad form. He never scratched around, or found weird or wild ways of getting out. He simply got on with the important business of keeping bad balls out and putting good ones away. Was Thorpe better at attacking or defending? Hard to say – he was excellent at both; as close as it gets to a sure thing.
6. Alec Stewart (wk)
Once again, don’t worry about that sub-40 average. Stewart was better than that – and for sure it would have been a whole lot higher had he not been asked to do so much so often for the greater benefit of the team as a whole. (In this team, he keeps wicket… but only at #6 and not as captain too.) Stewart was great fun to watch, for two reasons especially – one, he positively loved it when the bowler fired up the speed gun, and, two, his preferred shots were all of the gung-ho attacking variety. Stewart was a player you could safely have a great deal of faith in: clean cut, energetic, and bristling with pride. And, no mistake, he could thump a ball to the boundary as assertively as anyone.
Right, Australian score update. It’s now 158/1…
Katich Rogers closing in on a century. So that all went pretty well, then, huh? Urgh.
I’ll finish this little enterprise tomorrow, with the Bottom Five, aka: the Bowlers. Meantime, your comments, below, embarrassingly welcome!