End the ‘Era of Anointment’

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Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some have blond hair and are very tall…

We all know that quote. Or a similar one. And with cricketers it seems particularly apt. Why are some players anointed to have a career, and others not considered worthy?

This week sees the first Test between New Zealand and England, played out at Lord’s. Two mighty cricketing nations, one of whom is blessed with a captain who seems to relish a fight, and another who has a wonderful family that is exactly the sort of family that the England Cricket captain should have.

But I digress. Mark Wood, the young Durham quickie is anointed to make his Test debut this week. For a while now there has been a lot of chat around young Mark. Apparently he has ‘it’. Being 25 with only 24 first class matches behind him might suggest this ‘it’ might be an issue with staying ‘fit’. I have seen only a little of him thus far, and he certainly looks impressive. Not too tall, with a springy arm action he seems to bowl a heavier ball than one would expect. I really wish him well, and hope he stays fit. He has a decent first class record, and deserves his chance.

But in his county team there is another bowler, Graham Onions. Onions has been consistently the most successful medium fast bowler of his county generation [Editor’s note: I’d substitute Ryan Sidebottom for Onions, but nonetheless]. His averages and general statistics recently have been insane. Yet he is nowhere near selection. After fighting his way back from an operation that should have finished his career, no reward from England came his way. He has been judged and his sentence delivered. He’s not wanted for international duty, not considered worthy. No way back! No anointment.

Why? Is it that terrible moustache he sports on his ESPNCricinfo profile page that has held him back (seriously, check it out!)? Is he just too short? Compare Onions with another England bowler. Stuart Broad. Broad, or ‘Broady’ to his Team England mates is tall and blond and oh so brilliant at all he does – including drinking with Mathew ‘Matty’ Prior and missing a sponsor’s event (which doesn’t matter because he’s ‘Broady’)! He has played a gazillion Tests for England and is the undisputed new ball partner to James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson. The thought of dropping Broady is… Well, unthinkable! He’s played so many Tests (77). He has so many wickets (274) and is part of the most successful new ball partnership that England has ever had in the history of the entire world, according to some breathless BBC pundits! Broad can do nothing wrong.

Which is absolute crap, of course. Broad is a pretty mediocre bowler, who has a decent spell every now and then, mixed in with possibly three or four brilliant spells. He currently averages 29.97 with the ball, a figure that is actually coming down slightly – no brilliant start followed by the usual slow decline for this [word removed for editorial reasons]! He started crap and has continued crap!

But Broady is part of Team England. And if you are part of Team England then being part of Team bloody England is all that matters. Winning? Well, it would be nice but not essential. There’s no ‘I’ in Team, but there is one in Win. It may be hard to get into Team England, but it’s even harder to get out of it! Unless you write a damaging book, of course… (Sorry).

Why do we put up with this? Why are we so happy with mediocrity (in the truest sense of the word)? Why do we not strive to find a bowler who takes 400 wickets in fewer than 400 Tests? I know that Steyn is a different class of bowler, but if you talk to some of the loons who discuss cricket in the media, Jimmy is the greatest swing bowler in the world (he’s not), the best fast bowler we’ve ever had (he’s not) and certainly better than Steyn (he’s not and never will be). Jimmy is a very good bowler, and together with Broad has taken a lot of wickets for England, but over that period of time, somebody has to take the wickets!

You will never find a great player, unless you look.

If an anointed player plays over a hundred Tests, then he will have a hundred chances to work with supposedly the best coaches in the country. Recently I heard someone say that “Broad’s ‘skill set’ is extraordinary”. Aside from the fact that the term ‘skill set’ is pretty ambiguous (does it refer to Broads ability to bowl a leg cutter, or his unerring accuracy in pitching it short on the off side?), I would bloody well hope that he has developed something from all those Tests that he’s performed ‘meh’ in just to keep his place!

I am not as anti-Broad as the previous paragraph might suggest, even though he is a traitor to my beloved Leicestershire. When he can be bothered he’s a decent bowler. What I find puzzling is the certainty that Broad is Test class, and Rikki Clarke isn’t! Agreed, Rikki’s ridiculous name makes his selection a near impossibility, but come on! Rikki (his name is already a nickname) is a wonderful player, but a couple of Tests and that was enough for the England selectors to know he is no Ravi Bopara.

Were I to be in a position to give the young cricketer a word of advice it would be this, “Don’t bother trying unless the Sky team are there”. Because taking 6-43 in Taunton is useless if there is no ex-player there to say that was the best performance EVER! Alex Hales is an immense talent, and his exploits in the opening televised T20 Blast match (six sixes in six balls) was something. But it was only a couple of years ago when he was only able to score when under the camera’s gaze. We all knew he was flailing, but the consistent efforts of others was for nought compared to Vaughany’s (jeez!!!) proclamations of genius! Imagine if he’d been picked for red ball cricket back then, in that form…

That he is approaching his best now, when we need him most, is his true mark of talent.

At least Mark Wood isn’t a looker, like so many of the Team England are. Luke Fletcher, the most consistent bowler of yorkers in the English short game, isn’t thin. He’s a fat bloke who apparently likes a fag and a beer. Yet he is the best death bowler in our county game and is handy with a bat.  I have more chance of seeing Kevin play for England again (there, I mentioned him) than seeing Luke Fletcher ply his trade for his country. Yet if he were thin, with a daft Mohican and tattoos he’d probably have over a hundred ODI caps to his name. [Editor’s note: I did point out Fletcher’s stats to Mike, alongside the fact he sucks]

James Taylor has had a phenomenal career. His List A averages are extraordinary. He has averaged over 70 for the last few years, and he is still very young. When he played for England he shared a partnership with Kevin (I did it again!) yet was cast aside. Apparently his batting partner didn’t rate him (unmentionable fool). His First Class form was better than Root’s at that time. When Cook was finally dropped from the ODI team, and Taylor brought in, they still saw fit to try to distract him enough to be able to drop him again. Up and down the order he went, hoping to unsettle him so they could drop him with an “I told you so”.

Ballance has hit more sixes in the county List A game these last few years than Luke Fletcher, Samit Patel, Rob Key and Mark Cosgrove (Australian) have collectively had hot dinners. Yet based on a couple of misplaced innings with an injury the media pundits have ordained him to not be suitable for ODIs.

They are wrong.

It’s always been like this in our game. I remember Christopher Martin-Jenkins furious that John Crawley wasn’t getting a game. And he was right. Crawley had a fine record for his county, and was rewarded with over thirty Test caps. He was never a good international cricketer. But he had a chance – 34 Tests of failure. Down Under Stuart Law had one Test, one innings and one not out. Yet his First Class record is amazing. At least he was kept out by talent. Onions has been denied by Rankin. I know that’s unfair, Rankin is decent. But he’s no Onions, as I suspect neither is Jimmy…

The one-day arena has seen players like Darren Stevens, Graham Napier and Darren Maddy ignored, while Ravi, Dernbach and Cook failed repeatedly.

As I write this, on the eve of a hectic Test summer, the England team is without a proper coach. Our last New Messiah, Paul Downton, had labelled Peter Moores as the “Finest Coach of our Generation”, or something. So of course he lasted a year. Paul Farbrace is stepping up from Moores’ deputy to do the job, and many are predicting he will get the gig full time, owing to his ability to also not trust Kevin (damn! Sorry – last time I mention him.) But the press want Jason Gillespie. He’s the one being anointed. It is true that he has had great success at Yorkshire, and instilled in the team a positive and winning ethic. But we have a couple of others that sadly are not being mentioned. Andy Moles, who has done great work with Afghanistan, and Mick Newell, who has done frankly amazing work with Nottinghamshire and is spoken of extremely highly. Does he not want the job? It’s crazy how nobody is mentioning these two.

Well now they are, I am anointing them.

So here’s to Mark Wood being the real deal. But if he’s not, then please drop him. And let all of them know that if they don’t play well they all can be dropped. Let’s put pressure to end the ‘Era of Anointment’. Let’s make our players play for their skins.

Even Captain Cook.

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