Saturday, May 11, Sur v Dur, post-lunch
In truth, it was too cold for cricket. Winterfell had come to King’s Landing. But days like these, grey and murky, pass for summer in Durham and further north (as Gardeners cricketers well know). If the Gulf Stream stays where it is, they might pass like this for most of us more of the time. Get used to it.
I sneaked back to the Oval after lunch, with one aim in mind: that of seeing Ben Stokes bat. He’d been unable to bowl for Durham after picking up an injury in the YB40 game (apparently, he was stretched from the field, but it can’t have been so bad). That was a shame because they say his bowling has come on a good deal, and the No 6 position in the England team is still anyone’s to play for. Moreover, a fifth bowler is always nice. My interest Surrey at this point wasn’t even academic.
The spinners were on, Batty and Keedy. The latter was more spirited than the last time I saw him, but still fairly pedestrian. Batty was Batty. The obvious comparison for Stokes is going to be Flintoff; whether he’s like him or not, it’s the Flintoff role he’s trying to fill (testament to Freddie that it’s no longer Botham who’s mentioned in the perennial all-rounder puzzle – well, not much anyway). Stokes isn’t as big as Flintoff, though he has a similarly heavy gait and apparently relaxed manner when at the non-striker’s end. You might say they share that same blithe burliness, but that could be the romantic default of wanting to see the proverbial village blacksmith in every English cricket side. Whatever the case, Stokes didn’t appear unduly troubled by the match situation, the conditions or the bowling. He looked content, and confident in his powers.
One mightily swiped pull showed those powers to be considerable. Against spin, he didn’t have an overtly technical set-up. Just stood there really. Bit of a bum thrust, like a left-handed Jonny Bairstow. Was the pick-up slightly towards first slip? Maybe. The bat came down straight enough, and he pushed into the covers a couple of times for a one or a two without any obvious urge to get “after” the bowling. He didn’t strike me as a “must-have” player, though. Nor did his demeanour suggest he was ready for greater challenges. He moved like a club cricketer. Perhaps he did have to go back to the forge later.
That was pretty much that. Second ball to de Bruyn, the first bit of seam I’d seen him face, Stokes tried a too hasty cover-drive and dragged on. Rogers of Middlesex was out in exactly the same way to the same bowler. Must be something about de Bruyn’s bowling not quite coming on. Impatience on the part of Stokes? I would say so, but others might admire him for going for his shots. There had been some rather frantic flexing of the bat before he played the stroke, which can’t have helped his timing. If he wants a model, the stillness of Chris Gayle before the bowler bowls wouldn’t be a bad one.
Collingwood rates Stokes highly, which counts for plenty. But the way Collingwood himself, who can’t buy a run at present, swayed out of the way of de Bruyn’s surprise bouncer (just before the inevitable rain took the players from the field) demonstrated more application and concentration than Stokes had displayed in his entire innings of 20. A young man, then, just learning the game. Not a Test No 6. Not yet.
Postscript: a note on Surrey’s batting, which is in a woeful state. Ponting’s sojourn can’t start soon enough, and perhaps he’s thinking just the opposite about his sorry stint in the IPL. Will his stay in south London now be extended for the whole season or has he definitely signed up for that Caribbean T20? Answers via his lawyers. In the meantime, Surrey must sort out their order.
The only men guaranteed berths are Burns and Davies. At issue are who opens with the former and where the batter bats. Burns needs experience alongside him. Solanki is the only option. And opening might make him focus more. Davies should be as high as his keeping allows. Again, that might concentrate the mind. No 4, then, with Ponting (when he arrives) at No 3. Needs must, He must. De Bruyn at five, though he should justify his place on his batting first and foremost. Wilson at six. He deserves a go, with Roy the “next cab off the rank” (Harinath, I can’t find a spot for, but that’s a challenge to prove me wrong). Then five frontline bowlers. Because bowlers win matches. Batty, of course. Meaker and Tremlett as change seamers. Linley and Dernbach to take the new ball. Not sure of Ansari’s availability, but he’d be on standby for spinning pitches and offering general pep.
The one-day side (YB40 and T20) would be Davies, Roy, Ponting, Solanki, De Bruyn, Wilson, Ansari, Batty, Meaker, Lewis and Dernbach. Carrying the drinks? Jewell, if only to find out if he's as sparkling as his name. KP would walk, or hobble, into either side, batting at No 4, at Wilson's expense.
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