Thursday, April 25, Sur v Sus, post-lunch sessions
It was at this game that I actually considered writing The Hobbs Grate. The two previous entries are therefore recreations of recollections. Look out WG Sebald, let alone WG Grace, eh? The urge to observe overtook even the desire to read the newspaper, which soon became covered in red scrawl. If only one’s own batting were as fluent. Later, I saw an interview with Jonathan Trott, the increasingly cherishable Trotty, in which he said concentration was “the absence of irrelevant thoughts”. Sometimes I think the only things present are irrelevant thoughts. That shouldn’t worry us here, though. After all, it is a blog.
I missed the end of Surrey’s first innings and the start of Sussex’s reply. The home team had posted 351 after Wilson, promoted to No 3 with Harinath injured, had scored 124, suggesting he may yet be more than a specialist second slip (that’s not always obvious). Nash had gone before I arrived, but I was really keen to see Luke Wells. The son of Alan, of course, he has a reputation for batting time, and he took himself off to Sri Lanka a couple of winters ago to mug up on spin, which must be a good sign. He hasn’t scored many centuries, but those he has scored have tended to be big. And he enjoys playing Surrey.
To my mind, he sets up a lot like the England captain, with inevitable echoes of a left-handed Wells senior. It’s the similarity to Cook that struck me most. The same jut of the posterior (if not as pronounced), the same bobbing of the bat above the waist (if more perpendicular), the same unerring square cut, the same possible fallibility outside off stump when he doesn’t get far enough forward. He leaves the ball adroitly and without as much faff as Compton did for Somerset. He appears to know his own game enough not to fret about it. Surely another good, another Cook-like, sign? He is 22 and was born the day before Joe Root on December 29, 1990. (I think I was still drowning in Gazza’s tears then.) Don’t be surprised if Root and Wells are opening the batting together for England not long after the Ashes of 2015. Cook might be glad to drop down to No 3.
Sussex’s No 3 was Yardy, the south coast’s budget answer to Chanderpaul. He begins his two-stage crabwise manoeuvre across the stumps with a glance to mid-wicket, like a man wondering if he’s forgotten something on leaving the house. Aesthetically, you wish he’d stayed indoors, but you have to admire his grit, the Collingwood-esque determination to make the most of what he’s got. Having battled away for 23 off 133 balls, he smacked Batty straight to Burns at square leg, or maybe square cover, I can’t recall, but it was one of those d’oh dismissals.
Batty had spun his first ball hard past Wells’s bat. Otherwise he hadn’t looked much of a threat on a pitch that seemed sub-continentally slow. He continued to bristle, however, as befits a guy who could start an argument with his toothbrush never mind his own reflection. Perhaps, batting second as is often the Indian way, Sussex would post a sub-continental score and hope to skittle Surrey in third innings. There certainly wasn’t much in it for Surrey’s seamers. Meaker, who might have hurried the batsmen, was out injured. Dernbach dutifully came round the wicket and dug the ball in, but Wells and Joyce, a new batsman much easier on the eye, could almost pat these deliveries round the corner, evading Smith’s optimistic leg gully.
If there was one bowler who could shake things up it was Tremlett. Ah, but it was Tremlett, injury-ridden, enigmatic Tremlett, so nothing really stirred. In his first game of the season, his first first-class game in ages, he did produce a spell to Wells of probing accuracy from the Vauxhall End. Davies thought Wells had edged one delivery, but it was just the angle across the left-hander and a whisker away. Tremlett had more carry than a dumb waiter and the same mechanical efficiency. Equally, there was the listlessness in his manner of someone who has been on too long a shift. (This in his first game back!) Having been injured so often, it’s understandable he should be tentative. The thing is, he looks uncomfortable in his own skin. It doesn’t help that his top is so tight. Rugby-tight, almost indecently tight. He might be ripped, but he always seems unable to let rip. His shoulders and arms look distant cousins to his hips and bum. He’s that huge. Yet he sashayed meekly in from the Pavilion End, like a second-row forward being forced onto the catwalk. He should go on holiday to Jamaica, and unwind with Courtney Walsh, or better still sign up to a Curtly Ambrose course in anger management. How to get angry, that is. You’d settle for him getting back in that zone he was in for the Sydney Test of 2011.
The workhorse was Linley, lanky, flat-footed and rather loveable Tim Linley. With his slight stoop, his hapless sprawling in the field and his trousers bagging around his ankles, he’s one of few contemporary players who wouldn’t look out of place in the 1930s. He seldom has a bad game and seldom has a great one. At 31, he’s no spring chicken, but I feel he was rather poorly used in 2012, having made a breakthrough in 2011 with 73 wickets. As far as know, he wasn’t injured last season yet he played only seven games. Lewis, older still, was brought in from Gloucestershire to do the donkey work when it might have been better to build on Linley’s success and boost his confidence by making him “attack leader”. He’ll never set the world on fire, but he’s economical – especially compared to the incorrigibly careless Dernbach and the downright wayward Meaker – and makes the batsmen play. If he could even approach the consistency of David Masters, the Essex seamer, Surrey would be laughing.
There was something laughable about the way Wells brought up his century. Smith had put mid-on back when Wells was in the 90s, as if the batsman was ever going to hit over the top when he’d be so patient getting this far. No pressure was exerted at all. Then, in some kind of weird throw of the dice, he gave Solanki his first bowl when Wells was on 99. Two long hops later, Wells was on 107 not out, and a nice old dear who may have been his grandmother was up out of her seat and sloshing her spritzer about. The next day, Solanki would bowl Wells for 208. So the hunch worked, sort of.
Postscript: it’s scary but a half-decent England side of players born in the 1990s (that just excludes Finn, Woakes and Bairstow) can easily be drawn up. Makes you feel very, very old. How about Root (capt), Wells, Taylor, Stokes, Vince, Thakor, Buttler (wkt), Borthwick, Harris, Overton, Topley? Briggs might be a better bet for the spinner, but Borthwick can bat. Everyone bar Taylor has taken wickets this year.
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