Daily Archives: May 22, 2008

Lefties take centre stage

Talking of talented left-handers (see below, or above – I’m not yet quite sure about the order posts appear in in this blogging lark) I was privileged to be at the Oval on Wednesday of this week to witness Mark Butcher’s return to form for Surrey. Although initially shocked to find himself up against the debutant Oliver Hannon-Dalby – when was the last time Yorkshire fielded a bowler who sounds like he’s just slipping in during a break in the grouse-shooting season  –  he flayed some varied, but also variable, Yorkshire bowling to all parts, at least until the bludgeoning Matthew Nicholson as good as forced him into playing the supporting role in the final session. There was a decent enough crowd in the OCS Stand – the accommodation to which Surrey members are being dispatched until building work behind the pavilion is completed – but I’d guess most of us had been drawn by the prospect of seeing Mark Ramprakash complete his hundredth hundred. I certainly had and, as the Law of Sod would have it, I arrived just after lunch and before even laying eyes on the playing arena, heard some old boy telling a member of the security staff that he’d just got out. Ramps, incidentally, became the first first-class victim of Hannon-Darbly, who, rather than being the eldest son of the eleventh Earl of East Heckmondwike, is actually of more pragmatic stock, hailing from Halifax. But at 6ft 6ins, with arms long enough to convey a family of orphan orangutans back to the wild, he packed enough of a punch to worry the Surrey top-order in the first half of the day. Think Stuart Broad on steroids. And stilts. Then think of the Ashes in 2013. Mmm.

It’s unlikely that Butch will be around for that tour, but if he continues in this vein, he may make the England selectors for Australia 2010 take another Surrey batsman apart from Ramps into their considerations, especially as he is still only 35 and only lost his place most recently because of a spate of unusual injuries. One journalist reporting on the day’s events at the Oval rather unkindly suggested that Butcher’s strokeplay was of “unusual elegance”.  

In Yorkshire’s team was another left-hander with, to my mind, a promising future – Adam Lyth. I have seen him bat only once, for England Under-19s against their Indian counterparts – Ishant Sharma and all – a couple of years ago. Then, he dug England out of a tricky position with a battling 64 in the first innings and a fine hundred in the second as England overcame a deficit of almost 200. I thought at the time he reminded me of someone. Oh yes, it was Mark Butcher.



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Is it love – or just a short Flynn?

A female acquaintance once told me that it takes a woman about 19 seconds from starting to talk to you to know whether she’d sleep with you. I don’t think it was a come-on and it probably explains why speed-dating has become the phenomenon it has, as well as clarifying for men that they have mostly wasted an inordinate amount of time in their lives flogging a dead horse, but it is a thought-provoking statement, if true. What on earth, you might reasonably ask, however, does this have to do with cricket? The answer is disarmingly simple: I believe there is a similar dynamic at work with cricketers. Not, you understand, in a sexual sense, although – hey – if an unusually strong attraction to men in white flannels, or, in the case of Middlesex’s one-day kit, pink and blue squares, is your aberration, who am I to argue?
No, what I am getting at is the ability of the seasoned cricket observer to spot or sense, almost in an instant – and certainly after 19 seconds – that player who seems to have that little bit extra, that almost inexplicable sliver of of class that makes them one to mark down “for the future”. I had that experience on the first day of England’s opening Test against New Zealand when Daniel Flynn came into bat, his side tottering at 76 for four. With Stuart Broad bowling impressively, fired up after removing James Marshall and unearthing the away swing that most ‘experts’ seem to think he does not possess, the television commentators expressed anxiety that the chunky left-hander from the Northern Districts might go the same way as his fellow debutant Aaron Redmond, dismissed for a duck in his first over of Test cricket.
Broad ran up, delivered the perfect first ball to the 23-year-old, an inswinger a smidgen fuller than a good length zeroing in on middle stump; a test enough for even a seasoned Test campaigner. But Flynn timed his prop forward exquisitely, aligning bat perfectly with front pad and the ball resoundingly found the middle of a defensive bat. Lying on my sick couch, wrapped uncomfortably in a knot of twisted duvet and sweaty tracksuit bottoms as I recuperated from a three-week battle with food poisoning, I was forced to sit up and hastily rearrange my attire to take on a more respectable pose as surely as I would have done had Michelle Pfeiffer unexpectedly walked into my front room and asked for an audience with me.
If it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, it was a close-run thing. By the time he had executed two elegant flicks off his pads from the differing threats of Collingwood and Sidebottom, a strong bond was already developing; when he moved just a little too far across to the off-side to Jame Anderson and the ball scraped off his pad to bowl him round his legs for only nine, I experienced that sinking feeling familiar to those who are dumped two weeks into what appears to be a burgeoning relationship. I took solace in Nasser Hussain’s observation that Flynn, whose attractions I discovered later had obviously been noted in his native country at a tender age, earning him the captaincy of the national Under-19 side, had been particularly unlucky.
So had Nasser seen what I’d seen? And had anyone else? Or was it just a hopeless infatuation? First, I scoured Cricinfo’s online commentary for his first over, and this is what it recorded: “Broad to Flynn, no run, straight ball from Broad, who brings it back into the left-hander and Flynn defends pretty well, he looked solid in defence there.” Encouraging. Then, having missed a second opportunity to view him in the second innings, when, by all accounts, he gave excellent support to Jacob Oram, I came across his captain’s comments on the web.
“He’s got that No. 6 role basically for as long as he wants and if he keeps producing performances like he did first up then it is the start of a good career for him,” Daniel Vettori was quoted as saying. “The way he acknowledged Jacob was the aggressor, and that he could sit back, play a composed innings, turn over the strike and not take too many risks was a great sign for a guy in his first Test.”
Vindication, then? Perhaps. There is a school of thought that first impressions can be misleading; indeed, English cricket is littered with the broken hearts of those who fell deep into enchantment with this player or that who failed to fulfil the hopes invested in them. It’s early days, but by the end of this series I fully expect my initial assessment of Flynn to have been justified. Call it consummation, if you like. 

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