Friday, 30 May 2014

Column 13, 2014 – Bowlers who bat

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 85, Friday May 30, 2014.
[Full text below]

Since the seventies, Major League Baseball has had a ‘designated hitter’ rule, allowing a player picked for his batting to bat in place of one picked for his pitching.

Fortunately for all concerned, cricket entertains no such nonsense.

The game’s structure means not everyone has to bowl, but everyone does have to bat. A player in the side for his batting will not be forced to embarrass himself in front of a global TV audience doing something he’s not as good at as many amateurs.

Whereas those picked for their skill with the ball will inevitably be required to show off their batting chops, or lack thereof.

Favourite of this column Chris Martin, as he so often does, provides a wonderful example. No, not Gwyneth Paltrow’s estranged corporate rock warbler, the other one. Chris Martin was a rangy workhorse with a distinctive skip into the crease, whose 233 scalps made him New Zealand’s fourth highest Test wicket-taker of all time. Far more entertainingly, he was an absolutely dreadful batsman. In 103 innings he accrued 123 runs, 36 ducks, and an average of 2.37, only made that respectable by 51 not-outs.

Martin was unusually bad, but he’s just an extreme example of Test cricket’s most thrilling spectacle: ordinary, just-like-us batsmen facing world-class attacks.

Who can forget Jimmy Anderson and Monty Pannesar, both excellent bowlers, one an ordinary bat, the other a few grades below ordinary, blocking out the end of the first Ashes Test in 2009? It was genuine edge-of-your-seat stuff, a by-the-fingernails draw that those who don’t understand cricket cannot grasp the appeal of.

For me it’s when cricket trumps all other sport. Bowler vs bowler is a contest of skill vs heart. Flintoff and Harmison with the ball vs Kasprowicz and Lee with the bat: perhaps the game’s most epic battle. And Graham Onions surviving a brutal onslaught from Morne Morkel in Cape Town was more memorable than a hundred efficient wins.

So you can see why England have been guilty in the past of picking bowlers for their batting. It’s understandable, but never a good idea. When it comes to Tests, you want your best bowlers. Let the batsmen get the runs.

But if you find a genuinely good bowler who also knows which way up the bat goes? Well, that’s a different story.

Chris Jordan has been demonstrating for some time now that he’s an accurate, mid-eighties quick with a tasty bouncer. In the truncated Scotland ODI, the last ball of the innings – the only one he faced – was nonchalantly dispatched onto the pavilion roof. Last Thursday he did that to the best death bowler in the world to cap 38 off 13 balls. He has yet to be tested at the highest level trying to preserve his wicket rather than smash sixes, but I have a feeling he’ll get his chance.

He bowls pretty well. But excitingly, Chris Jordan can bat.

- ends 485 words -

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