Time in the Sun

The modern cricket world moves on quickly, and England - even if it wasn't quite the same team - were in Dublin yesterday. For them, of necessity, the recent dismantling of India lies in the past. The future is what matters.

For me, coming late to it, it's impossible to be original about the Pataudi Trophy. My take, though, is that for all England's excellence, the series lacked something.


After the first session of the second day at Trent Bridge all we had was a slow, inexorable, tediously smooth ride towards a 4-0 scoreline. Individual and collective achievement, yes, but no suspense. If it stayed dry, England - better, stronger, faster, more skilful and more purposeful in every area - were always going to win by a mile. For large parts of the series India were a pitiful shambles.

In some ways, the performances of two players can be viewed as a microcosm of their team's collective efforts, and of their cultures.

The rigour, precision, elegance and consistency of Ian Bell's strokeplay summed up England. A team developing some of the machine-like quality which Australia once had, while Sachin Tendulkar, deified by repeated standing ovations which eventually descended into cliche, was, for much of the series, a shadow of his usual self: uneasy, scratchily uncertain and ultimately left without answers by a superior foe.

For all the visceral thrill provided by Tim Bresnan belting the ball into the Edgbaston crowd to bring up England's first total over 700 since 1930, or the spirited combativeness of Praveen Kumar, the lasting memory of the series will be the batting of Rahul Dravid. A reminder that batting based on defence and judgement, with strokeplay of style and grace when applicable, can be as enjoyable to watch as anything else the game can produce.

Dravid has been a great player for a very long time. This, with Tendulkar struggling, was his time in the sun.


Related Pasts, Different Futures

Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook are both still young men, but they have played together for a very long time. For a string of Essex junior sides, for England Under-19s, for Essex, and for England.

Bopara's career remains in an uncertain place: inconsistent but occasionally dominant at county level, unfulfilled and flatteringly deceptive at international level. Cook is one of the most prolific batsmen in the world.

So you have to wonder what was going through each of their minds when Bopara came to the wicket yesterday afternoon, on the hiding to nothing to end them all, and with Cook already 247 not out.

Bopara doesn't appear the type of person to lack confidence or retreat in the face of others' achievements, but, this time, he could be forgiven the odd stray thought about where, in their 27th years, each of their careers is heading.

Bopara, out cheaply, will, as night follows day, return to Essex and a doubly uncertain future. Such is the stature, stability and brilliance of this England team that opportunities are not going to come along very often these next few years. And by the time one does, it is likely that someone else - Taylor, or Stokes, or Bairstow - will be chosen. There is a strong possibility that Ravi Bopara will never again bat in a Test match for England.

The way in which both men returned to the new Edgbaston dressing rooms said much for their fates. Bopara was ushered from the field by an uncertain smattering of applause, people displacing their embarassment by rummaging in bags or chatting to their neighbours. Cook, in his turn, received an unconditional standing ovation, but there was also a certain poignancy to it.

Bopara looked unemotional, but was, you suspect, quietly shattered. Cook, his iron concentration having for once slipped at the last, was more visibly disappointed, his failure to reach 300 for a brief moment all he could think about. For all his peerless appetite for batting and hatred of dismissal, Cook knows that few players get more than one chance to make a triple-hundred in Test cricket. He is certain to make many more centuries for England, but, in all probability, he won't quite pass this way again.

But at least he will be there. And soon, as England's next captain, the team will be his. For Bopara, life on the county circuit (perhaps embellished by an IPL contract and some one-day international appearances) may be all there is.

Bopara and Cook have played together for a very long time. But for the next few years they may not be seeing very much of each other.


523 and Counting

There is something elemental and magnificent about huge partnerships.

I've been a personal witness to a few big ones - Adrian Dale and King Viv at Sophia Gardens, 1993, Robin Martin-Jenkins and Mark Davis at Taunton, 2002, Trott and Broad at Lord's last year - and it always seems just a little bit amazing that players can bat for so long against professional bowling and not be parted. Many components go into stands like this: skill, timing and patience of course, but also, to be sure, plenty of luck.

During the early days of this blog, in late July 2006, I wrote about the experience of following the Cricinfo commentary as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara advanced on the world record in Colombo.

Yesterday was different. It was a busy day at work, and while I sneaked the odd glimpse at the scores from Northampton and Scarborough, events at the Rose Bowl passed me by until the day's end.

When I discovered that Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie had put on 523 for Hampshire's third wicket, batting together through 135 overs, I reflected on the fact that it was a far cry from the days when the newly-minted pitches at the Bowl used to favour the bowlers, but I also considered the fates of the players involved.

Neil McKenzie, from the Highveld of South Africa and with his 36th birthday in clear sight, always was a good player. Reliable, unfussy, with plenty of strokes and also the broadest of dead bats when necessary (as I discovered to my cost during two of the longest days' cricket-watching of my life at Lord's in 2008). In the autumn of his career, he would have formed an ideal partner for the star of the show, Michael Carberry, a fine player from the south London suburbs whose struggles with serious illness over the last year have come close to ending his career.

Both have played Test cricket - McKenzie has 58 caps for South Africa, Carberry one for England - but both are unlikely to wear their country's colours again.

They will always, though, have Southampton.

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