No Surplus Aggression

There were many great things about England's win over Sri Lanka yesterday afternoon, but comfortably the best, in my view, was the sight of Chris Tremlett leading the attack with confidence and potency.

Typecast earlier in his career as an injury-prone, under-committed enigma, it took more than three years and a change of counties for him to find his way back into a side for which he'd performed with plenty of credit in 2007. And, over the last six months, he's really made the most of his second coming.

There's an indefinable reserve and diffidence about Tremlett - the type of characteristics which can lead the sceptical to wonder about the intensity of his desire - but these are hard to discern when he's letting the ball go. Then you just see a natural, uncomplicated, orthodox action, plenty of pace and guaranteed, natural bounce. No surplus aggression is required.

This England team is going to take some stopping. Sri Lanka are powerless to resist and India will have their work cut out too. One thing looks increasingly certain: they'll have Chris Tremlett to contend with.


Fantasy World

With England engaged in an insipid, rain-ruined first Test of the summer, one of the more eye-catching stories of the last week was that of Adrian Shankar, the former Cambridge University captain, who was recently signed by Worcestershire only to be released after barely more than a fortnight amid allegations that he had exaggerated his experience and falsified his age in order to gain a contract.

Leaving aside what this says about Worcestershire's competence and gullibility off the field (and they're not too crash hot on it at the moment either), the strange demise of Shankar led me to recall the case of the late Barbadian Donald Weekes, whom Wisden, never a publication too wedded to hyperbole, described in his obituary as 'a yarn-spinner of international calibre'. Among other things, Weekes claimed to have scored 700 not out in a single innings, and was lavishly profiled in The Cricketer in 1975, an article which made quite an impression on me as a kid and continued to do so until Philip Bailey (now Wisden's Chief Statistician) informed me about twelve years later that it was a load of rubbish.

I noticed Shankar's name when Worcestershire signed him; partly because they'd unwisely made great play of signing someone who had never been much good, but also because I once met a member of his family.

During a rain break at Lord's a few years ago I got chatting to a couple of blokes from Bedford in the Warner Stand. One of them claimed to be Adrian Shankar's father, and I don't see any reason why he would have been lying. Looking back, he seemed more proud of the fact that his son had been to Cambridge than that, as has repeatedly been mentioned over the last few days, he'd played in the same school side as Alastair Cook, even though (before he started knocking years off his age) he was several years older. He probably knew his son's main claim to fame in the future would revolve around someone he'd played with.

Sporting success carries great currency among men. People look up to you. It might, perhaps indirectly, get you girls. Anyone can make anything up, but, in the end, you always get found out, and you end up where you deserve. Where your talent, and all the other ingredients that go to make a player, take you.

Adrian Shankar will never play county cricket again. Alastair Cook has made seventeen Test centuries.


In the Wings

It's been re-stated many a time, here and elsewhere, but strength of temperament is vital to success in all top-level sport.

Perhaps the key virtue of Eoin Morgan - and he has many - is his strength of character, embodied in his priceless ability to deliver when success is vital and definitive.

After an uneven winter in Australia and India, during which his previously burgeoning reputation lost some of its lustre, the fact that Morgan, at short order, was able to make an ultimately imperious 193 while the presumed favourite for the spare England place, Ravi Bopara, was scratching his way to a mere 17, underlined this once again.

This season will see important changes to the make-up of England's side, and it's consistent and simply right that Morgan gets first go. Further opportunities for Bopara may come if others can be as convinced as him of his abilities, while Hildreth, James Taylor (of whom more soon) and perhaps even Samit Patel also wait in the wings.

In the meantime, England Lions have a game to win today.


They Never Come Back. Or Do They?

His career pre-dates this blog by years but I always rated Martin Crowe. A technically adroit and run-hungry presence in the New Zealand team which started to take on the world on level terms in the eighties before falling back towards earth in the nineties.

Now, as Cricinfo reports, he's planning a comeback to club, and, potentially, first-class cricket, at the age of 48.

In many ways this chimes with Crowe's character. He always was a questing, restless soul, never shy of a theory or opinion, and the way his quotes read in the piece his 'comeback' appears to be as much a quasi-scientific experiment to see what level of cricket a man of his age can reach as a way for him to keep fit and fill his waking hours.

At one time, not so very long ago, it wasn't uncommon for players to play well into their forties, but, with the advances in fitness which have swept the game in recent years, those days have gone.

This is not to say that Crowe can't succeed. He could really bat, and who's to say that first-class cricket will be beyond him if he can make runs at club level? The fielding and running, given his long history of knee trouble, will prove very difficult, though, and I won't be surprised if I never hear of this again.

Those of us whose fortieth birthdays lie well in the past are bound to follow his progress closely. We could find ourselves thinking it could be us.

There's one problem. You need to have been able to do it in the first place.


Seve (1957-2011)

This blog rarely strays far from cricket. Not because I don't have other sporting interests - as anyone who knows me will tell you, I really do - but there simply isn't time to pass a considered opinion on everything that's going on out there. At times, though, you have to break with tradition.

I've never played golf seriously. Just a few chips, slashes and puts here and there, and my career never really recovered from the time I shanked a ball through my Dad's greenhouse in 1982. I was a teenager then and I had friends who played the game. One of them became very good and later captained Cambridge University (using his spare time to become a brain surgeon). Short of things to do in the school holidays (perhaps the cricket wasn't on TV that day) I used to walk the fairways with them. This rapidly developed into an armchair golf habit which became quite serious for a year or two and took me to professional tournaments. The European Open at Sunningdale here, the Bob Hope British Classic at Moor Park there, the Ryder Cup at Walton Heath in the far-off days when the USA only had to turn up to win. I even made the last two days of the Open at Troon, crouching in the middle of the fairway with hundreds of others as Tom Watson received the Claret Jug.

Each year between 1981 and 1984 I went to at least one day of the World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth. In those days, on that course, there was one player who stood head and shoulders above all the rest, and that was Severiano Ballesteros. The great thing about going to golf was how close you could get to the players. Within whispering distance at the side of the green you could feel the full force of his charismatic personality and try to read every nuance of his usually volcanic expression. The message you got, loud and clear, was that playing golf for money was a serious business. There rarely seemed much lightness of spirit around when Seve was playing but that didn't matter at all. What mattered, what you took away and held for nearly thirty years, were his shots.

One year, somewhere around the middle of the West Course, on a long hole (the 12th, I think) with a row of trees across the fairway, Ballesteros played a drive that still sticks in my mind's eye. It left the club like an exocet missile, climbing to a fixed height and maintaining its trajectory as though guided by a laser. But it was swerving and turning in the air at the same time like a great bowler's inswinger. It passed through the top of the trees (in truth this was probably a mistake but to our impressionable eyes it just looked spectacular) before curving back the other way - outswing - and coming to rest in the middle of the fairway. It looked and felt like a trick shot. But that was how good Ballesteros was. His mastery was so complete that he looked as though he was showing off when all he was doing was playing the game as he could. At the time there was literally no better player in the whole world.

As a player Ballesteros faded early as back injuries took their toll. The seniors' circuit wasn't for him. But everyone who was there in his greatest days needed no reminding of how good he was.

Yesterday, at the Spanish Open, the course fell silent. José Mariá Olazábal, Ballesteros's protégé and no stranger to serious health or form problems himself, was in tears.

Many of us with no intimate connection with him felt the same, for the times you saw a sportsman of real genius - George Best, or Roger Federer, or, in my case, Brian Lara or Seve - at their very best, stay with you for ever.


Class Act

On a slate grey Taunton day when April's summer seemed to have given way to a chilly early autumn, batting was often hard work. An attack comprising Damien Wright, Alan Richardson, Jack Shantry and Gareth Andrew will never scare anybody, but they all obtained movement from a track which gave them just enough assistance.

Despite his double century at the Rose Bowl, Trescothick looked cautious, scratchy and impermanent, and only two Somerset batsmen made a lasting impression prior to some late hitting from Peter Trego.

Nick Compton battled hard for 57, occasionally freeing himself to hit some powerful pulls in an effort to erase the memory of his guilt for the mix-up which saw James Hildreth run out without facing a ball in the morning.

The class act of the day, though, was Craig Kieswetter. There was poise, control and easy, assured power in everything he did, with forward defensives carrying to the boundary on at least two occasions and three huge, dismissive sixes.

His keeping is a work in progress and there will be plenty of faster and more potent bowling for him to deal with when he returns to international cricket, but the evidence of this innings was thrillingly persuasive.

This is a very substantial cricketer indeed.

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