Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Re: Your Comments

Some thoughts on three issues that were raised in the 'Comments' section below my recent post about life without Freddie.

1. All Around the World

Since the early seventies, which is as far back as my personal memories go, England have had a whole series of all rounders. When you look through the list it becomes clear that the reason Botham and Flintoff stand out is that, with the exception of Tony Greig, they've been far better than anyone else who's pulled on an England cap during that period.

Consider some of the names - Miller, Capel, De Freitas, Ealham, Pringle, Hollioake Major, Hollioake Minor, Ian Greig, Cork, White, Clarke, Lewis... and Uncle Tom Cobleigh & all. (I'm not that list isn't exhaustive - feel free to enlighten me if any other names come to mind!)

As we know, Greig 'Packered' himself - but all the rest were triumphs of hope over expectation. Some burned brightly for a short time but never provided the solidity and longevity we were hoping for.

If you take as a definition a 'great' all-rounder being someone who can justify their place in the side on both their batting and bowling it becomes clear that they are the exception rather than the rule. In the same timeframe as above, I can think of only four players who have reached that lofty peak, Mount Olympus if you will for any extended period - Imran Khan, Gary Sobers, Mike Procter and Botham. You should probably add Hadlee to that list because of the relative weakness of the New Zealand side during the time he was carrying them almost single-handed, and possibly Kapil Dev at a stretch.

So, from an English perspective it's more a case of appreciating just how extraordinary Botham (for ten years) and Flintoff (for two) were - rather than being concerned that we don't seem to be able to produce class all-rounders as a matter of course.

2. Gang of Four

You can get away with a four man bowling attack, but it has to have balance - and has to be four bowlers you can actually rely on, whilst realistically accepting that everyone will have an off day once in a while.

If everyone is fit the ideal 4 man England attack now would be Fred, Monty, Matty Hoggard and Simon Jones. (Of course, with Freddie in the side you can have a 5 man attack if he bats 6 but that's a different story) You need a mixture of bowlers who take wickets (Think 15-2-77-4) and bowlers who can provide you with a semblence of control (23-8-54-2) It was often said of the Australian side in the 90's that they could get away with a four man attack because they had McGrath and Warne and would regularly bowl sides out in 80 overs. That's fine as long as they aren't piling up 400 plus in those overs.

Think back to Day One at Edgbaston 2005. The Australian attack still took wickets, but England scored runs because the control wasn't there - there was no McGrath to provide the '23-8-54-2' control so the four man strategy didn't work.

What you want are bowlers who can cover both bases - attack when necessary but also fall into the defence mode if necessary. It's not really too much to ask, but it does seem strange how many England quick bowlers seem to have an issue with it.

Then the question of injury rears its ugly head. I don't thing you can really plan extensively for this - If you think you're taking a chance on selecting someone in a four man attack who might pull up lame during a game, you shouldn't really be selecting them at all. By the same token you shouldn't go in with a 5 man attack because you think a bowler might break down. You need to have some consideration for your supporting cast. With KP, The Pies and Captain Fantastic (his words, not mine!) England have three back ups who can all usefully turn their arm over so they can probably afford to risk a four man attack more often than they do - but generally, should you really be dropping a good batsman in favour of a bits 'n' pieces all rounder who then becomes bowler number 4.5? (Think Ian Greig...)

3. A Land Down Under

Finally - the question was posed about the lack of all rounders produced by Australia since Alan Davidson.

I't's only a half formed theory - but dare I suggest that cricket below test level is far more competitive in Australia than in England. The competition for places at Grade and State level is so fierce that players have to spend all their time and effort looking to specialise in one skill rather than on both. It's therefore only once they are established in the side that they can start looking to diversify.

Further comments and thoughts welcome!


Tony.T said...

The Aussie selectors have wrestled with the idea of picking a top all-rounder, but failing that they seem content to pick the six best batsmen, four best bowlers and Gilchrist as a defacto all-rounder.

The obvious exceptions are Paper Cut Watson, who they'd kill to have on the park for an extended period, and Andrew Symonds. They are also crossing their fingers that Cameron White will one day land his leggie in the general vicinity of the pitch.

Personally, I would have loved it if Chris Matthews had held his nerve back in 1988. He was a terrific left arm swing bowler and a potentially damaging batsman. If he hadn't choked back then - yeah I know, if - he would have been a star.

There have been quite a few talented 'cricketers' in state cricket here. Andrew Symonds is the classic example. By 'cricketers' I mean the sort of bloke who is a good fielder, good bowler and good batsman. But none have been good enough to make the big step to Test cricket. They are either lack penetration as bowlers or are too erratic as batsmen.

Symonds is in the Sobers mould without, obviously, being anywhere near as good. He's a dangerous bat, a tidy bowler and a blistering fieldsman. In fact, he's more than the sum of his parts. Neither his batting or his bowling in isolation would see him picked. But IF they picked players for their ability to catch, run and throw, he'd be captain.

Anonymous said...

But IF they picked players for their ability to catch, run, throw, and drink beer, he'd be captain.

Symonds is probably going to be picked as the 4 and a half bowler when Australia resume Test duties. His heroics in Melbourne will give him the nod over P.C. Watson.