Friday, 15 May 2015

Column 14, 2015 – All-rounders

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 117, Friday May 15, 2015.
[Full text below]

Selection in professional cricket, especially at the highest level, will always depend on the balance of the side, which is invariably dictated by the available talent pool.

The simple option, taking the keeper as read, is five batsmen and five bowlers. This can leave you a bit light on batting though, so what you really want is an all-rounder.

So option two is five batsmen, an all-rounder and four bowlers. This is the classic set up. If you haven’t really got an all-rounder, you’ll have to compromise on the purity of your batsmen, and pick a couple who can bowl a bit, as sort of two halves of your fifth bowler.

A luxury version is four batsmen, two all-rounders, four bowlers. But you don’t see that a lot outside of T20, because genuine international class all-rounders are very, very rare.

A genuine all-rounder can be defined as someone you could pick solely as a specialist bat OR as a dedicated bowler – but who just happens to be both. One of the five best batsman AND one of the five best bowlers in the country.

Apply that criteria strictly, and you’ll see there really are very few in the international game. Lots of players we call all-rounders fall short of it – they’re really bowlers who can bat, or batsmen who can bowl.

In club cricket, standards are naturally a little more relaxed, so you’re much more likely to have players who satisfy the genuine all-rounder criteria. Ravi Bopara and Luke Wright, for example, while arguably slightly wanting in both disciplines internationally, would be blow-them-away match winners in most clubs.

All-rounders in club cricket are pretty common. In fact, most clubs have got at least a couple, and if they have a good game, it’s amazing how often they decide it. They are usually the players you remember from prior encounters in previous seasons.

Our first league game of 2015 was against old friends and rivals Godshill. We know them well, and were well aware that their star all-rounder would be key. Coops is a fine swing bowler and a monstrous batsman. He doesn’t slog, but he hits the ball as hard as anyone I’ve ever played with or against. To field close in the covers to him, I would want to be clad in 20 layers of bubblewrap.

It’s an over-simplification of course, but not by much: the game would be decided by whether or not we could get him out.

We could not.

England have a promising all-rounder in Ben Stokes. Still maturing as a player – mentally more than physically, as his recent run-in with Marlon Samuels ably demonstrated – he is prodigiously talented. If he can harness that temper rather than surrendering to it, he could yet be the real deal. My money is on England going for option two when they line up against a powerful New Zealand at Lord’s next week. Let’s hope he makes the difference.

- ends 489 words -

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