Friday, 3 July 2015

Column 21, 2015 – When bad is better than good

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 124, Friday July 3, 2015.
[Full text below]

Part of cricket’s unusual dynamic is that you can have a bad game personally and win, and a brilliant game personally and lose.

In the spirit of anticipation, here’s two Ashes examples.

Adelaide 2006, England threw away a virtually certain draw, destroyed almost singlehandedly by the relentless will of Warne. The indomitable Paul Collingwood made a double century in the first innings and carried his bat in the second. A personal career high point, in a game no England fan wants to remember.

Edgbaston 2005, a game every England fan remembers: The Greatest Test; one of our most famous victories over the old foe. Ian Bell scored 6 and 21. In one of the all time great games, our greatest stylist just never got in.

Getting in is everything. Batting gets easier as your innings goes on. The more you’re there, the more you get used to the pitch, the light, the weather, the bowlers – swing, seam, turn. You become attuned to this particular task, not just batting in general: batting here, today, now. You pick the right shots. Your timing is crisp.

Different players take more or less time to get in. Old-school Test openers in bowling-friendly conditions may not allow themselves an aggressive shot until well into the afternoon session. 40/50 overs – a whole game’s worth getting your eye in.

Chris Gayle, for all his ferocious hitting, invariably plays himself in, even in t20. He doesn’t take long about it, but he has a look. His jaw-dropping 151 off 62 balls for Somerset a month ago (in a losing cause, incidentally) included 10 fours and 15 sixes. It also included at least one dot ball from every Kent bowler: their first to him. Even in full bludgeon mode, Gayle allows himself time. Imagine if he was in a hurry.

It may happen sooner, but for most of us less gifted mortals, half a dozen overs is usually enough to get yourself in.

Saturday I batted for half our innings and didn’t get in at all. Instead of getting easier, it seemed to get harder as it went on. I’ve no idea why. The pitch was a bit sticky, but it’s not like we’re not used to that. I didn’t time a single ball off the front foot, only the odd pull finding the general vicinity of the middle. It was a desperate, scratchy knock. I tried everything: batting two yards outside the crease, hanging right back, charging down. Nothing really worked. Just one of those days. The 39 runs look fine in the book, but I’ve had ducks that felt better. It was ghastly.

And yet we won comfortably. A maximum 24-pointer, finally sealed by their tenth wicket with just three balls to spare. An excellent all round team performance, in which I was personally horrible.

Still, better that way round. In this area at least, it’s better to do an Ian Bell than a Paul Collingwood.

- ends 489 words -

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