August 2009
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Daniel Brigham: All over for forgotten man Butcher

August 7th, 2009 by Daniel Brigham in County cricket, England, The Ashes

Ravi Bopara heads into the Headingley Test with his position under threat after a series of low scores. It’s a familiar story for England’s No. 3, but Bopara will be well advised to listen to a different story: one that happened eight years ago at the same venue in the Ashes.

Set 315 to win, England’s No. 3, without a hundred since 1998, made the bowling of McGrath, Warne and Lee look like, well, Siddle, Johnson and Hauritz with a stunning, unbeaten 173 to lead England to victory.

That man, of course, was Mark Butcher. It was the pinnacle of a career that came to an end yesterday when he announced his retirement after suffering from a persistent knee injury.

Vaughan, Trescothick, Thorpe, Pietersen … rarely does Butcher’s name get mentioned when thinking of England’s best batsmen of the last 10 years. Yet he is worth far more celebrating than just for that Headingley innings. A Test average of 34.58 hides his class: he is, after all, England’s third highest run-scorer at No. 3, the position that so obsesses the British media and public because English batsmen struggle in that position.

Yet Butcher thrived there because he had the game to adapt to coming in after the first over or after the 90th – and he also had the temperament. He was unflustered and poor patches (of which there were a number) didn’t seem to faze him. Like many of his temperament an elegant cover drive was his trademark, and in 2002 that shot was pleasingly ubiquitous as he hit 551 runs at 55. Sometimes his attitude was his downfall – lapses of concentration often got him out when set. Yet three hundreds against the Aussies and two apiece against South Africa and Sri Lanka showed his game was at its best against the best attacks.

This probably won’t be the last we hear of Butcher. He will have a good career in the media if he wants; he’s a natural in the studio and has interesting things to say. He could start by having a word with Bopara.

Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket, England, The Ashes | 2 Comments »

King Cricket: Do what the opposition least expect

August 7th, 2009 by Alex Bowden in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Don’t boo Ricky Ponting. It’s what he’s expecting. You’re playing right into his hands.

As a crowd, it’s important to always do what the opposition least expects you to do. If England supporters give Ponting a standing ovation on his way to the crease, the Tasmanian hand-spitter will be so taken aback he’ll probably spoon a catch straight back to the bowler first ball. It might be difficult to summon a standing ovation when you see Ricky Ponting walking out to bat, but if you blur your eyes he could maybe pass for ex-Glamorgan batsman, Tony Cottey, so try that. You’ll have to blur your eyes quite a bit because he doesn’t actually look anything like Tony Cottey. But still - give it a go.

The same philosophy can be applied for any of the Australians. Michael Clarke will probably expect a Michael Clarke style reception. Don’t pander to him. Welcome him in much the same way as you would welcome a South African all-rounder. If he happens to walk past you on his way out, address him directly and call him Brian McMillan.

Mitchell Johnson’s bowling spells usually commence to a soundtrack of sniggering. He’ll be immune to this now. Try crying. Try proper, full-on, Italian funeral crying. With wailing sounds filling the air and snot filling the stands, Johnson will surely be disconcerted enough to serve up one of his trademark looseners. You’ll want to laugh, but don’t. Test cricket is a game that rewards concentration and mental strength. Keep a lid on your true emotions and see if you can’t deliver a despairing nervous breakdown instead. Do it for England.

If Graham Manou plays, he’ll be expecting a quiet time. Do what he least expects: recognise him. Say: ‘Hey, it’s Graham Manou! Look everybody, it’s THE Graham Manou.’ You might need to make the effort to find out whether it’s MANou or maNOU, but this is the Ashes - there’s a lot of hard work that goes in behind the scenes. Do your bit.

And when Shane Watson appears, make a point of not using the word ‘metrosexual’. It’ll freak him out no end.

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 3 Comments »

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