Friday, August 15, 2008

Sticky Fingers

What's the problem with Monty? A familar question in recent conversations between England supporters, so let's stick in the TRSM oar...

We'll leave the appalling batting, fielding, running between the wickets and catching for another time - time enough though, to marvel again at how Northants let him get so far without apparently teaching him the rudiments of how to catch a cricket ball.

Let's also leave out the incredibly patronising crowd reaction to his every move which is enough to make you grind your teeth. It's a reaction that treads very close to racism. Does anyone actually realise how offensive it is to continually shout out 'Montee' in a cod Indian accent every time he's fielding on the boundary? It's the same as shouting a Love thy Neighbouresque 'Aloo-dere' at a West Indian.

No, I think the big problem with Monty is one of expectation. When he came on the scene we'd been tormented for years by a whole series of top class spinners - Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Murali the most obvious examples. The assumption was that we now had one of our own and we could sit back and watch as the wickets and victories mounted up. That's obviously a rather simplistic precis, but you get my drift.

On top of that you had his lovely repeatable action, the fact that, for an English spinner, he actually turned the ball appreciably - and had the sort of boyish enthusiasm and naive charm that instantly made him a marketing mans dream. Plus his Asian heritage gave hope that the game could be sold to a whole new audience.

All this excitement overlooked the fundamental truth - in these days of covered wickets, finger spinners don't win many test matches. Consider that the top finger spinner wicket taker is Lance Gibbs at number twenty in the charts with 309, and who bowled about a million overs to get to that figure. He also has the worst strike rate of anyone who has taken more than 200 wickets.
Finger spinners have historically provided an element of control for a bowling side based around impeccable line and length mixed with some slow turn. To be a match winning, attacking finger spinner these days you need some sort of variety that sets you apart - Saqlain's doosra for example, and/or bowl in tandem with an attacking spinner - Harbajan with Kumble.
Beyond that, finger spinners rely on changes of flight, pace and turn. They also need to have a decent arm ball to keep the batsman honest and stop him assuming the same turn on each delivery as Graeme Smith did at Edgbaston. It's extraordinary that Monty doesn't appear to have one, and therefore remarkable that he's got this far without one!

So maybe instead of bemoaning his failings, we should be accentuating the positives - and considering that with some decent advice and mentoring, he could seriously develop into the most statistically successful finger spinner ever. It's the advice and mentoring that could be key. There's been very little progress or advance in his bowling over the past couple of years, which suggests that up until now, he's assumed that he could get by on what he had. I suspect that Edgbaston may well have changed that. On a wearing fourth innings pitch providing variable turn and bounce it must have been a chastening experience not to have bowled England to victory - or at close to one.

You could sense at The Oval that maybe a lesson has been learned, as there seemed to be more variation in his deliveries, and the histrionic appealling had been toned down somewhat. In an odd way, Graeme Smith's masterpiece of an innings might well have done England a favour.

Now, about the batting, fielding, catching and running between the wickets....

1 comment:

Brian Carpenter said...

Excellent post, Mark. Monty's been bugging me for a while, especially since I watched him bowl the same delivery over after over after over on the last two days at Lord's - no arm ball and hardly any variation of flight or pace. While his basic delivery - flat, quick and sharply-spun - will be good enough to get mediocre players (and some good ones) out on turning tracks, I think he's going to struggle more and more against the better sides unless he develops more variety. He's a very good bowler, but he could be so much better.

It'd be interesting to know what 'Team England' are doing about it - David Parsons was the spin coach but I think he's moved upstairs or sideways now. A trip to India to work with Bedi surely wouldn't do him any harm.

We can leave the batting and fielding to one side for now but to me he appears to have gone backwards in those areas too. Mike Selvey's made the point that he suffers from a lack of competition and I think there's something in that.

I agree with what you say about crowd responses to him too - what was ironic and amusing two years ago has become a bit boring now.

An interesting winter ahead for him, I think.