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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 Responses to “Daniel Brigham: All over for forgotten man Butcher”

  1.   sahil says:

    It is difficult to describe how good and important he was. But since his last test in 2004 England have tried Key, Vaughan, Bell, Shah, Cook, Bell, Shah, Vaughan, Bell, Strauss, Vaughan, Bell, Shah and Bopara at number three.

    Aside from Cook, none have excelled there.

  2.   hindleyite says:

    Truly an unsung hero, Mr. Butcher. I’ll never forget his 173 against the Aussies in 2001, or his performances against South Africa in 1998.

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