September 11, 2009

Mike Holmans

How do you define "class"?

Mike Holmans



Michael Jeh's piece about the number of talented-looking players who appear for England but fail to produce the goods when things get difficult is timely, since those he mentions have all just been granted contracts by the ECB for the coming year.

Not that Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara are actually failures. They have each scored a healthy number of Test hundreds. Yes, they have been against West Indies, New Zealand, a Pakistan side depleted by injury and player bans or a South Africa who were bowling very poorly on a flat track, but they were in Test matches all the same. They have only failed against the very best, but there are plenty of those from everywhere. (Owais Shah is in a different category: I have long thought of him as Owaste of Space at the international level.)

I don't think it's because the standard of domestic cricket is too low. Most of the Division One counties could give New Zealand a pretty good game, and Durham have a better bowling attack - or at least had, depending on how much difference the return of Shane Bond makes. Demanding that the county championship be of a higher standard than the Test cricket played by the bottom half of the rankings table (where England reside anyway) is surely over-optimistic.

Nor are Australia immune. Phil Hughes succeeded majestically in Sheffield Shield, county cricket and in Tests against South Africa, who now admit that they bowled badly at him. Then, when he came up against Steve Harmison (for the Lions) and Andrew Flintoff armed with both a plan of bowling fast leg stump throat balls and the ability to execute the plan consistently, he was found wanting. No amount of domestic cricket can entirely prepare you for the very top.

But Fox (Michael Jeh) was talking more about one-day cricket, and there the problem is more likely to be systemic. England have been rubbish at ODIs since the early 1990s no matter who has been picked but their main fault has been that they have so few batsmen able to play the aggressive game. The successful Test batsmen tend not to score fast enough in ODIs so instead they pick domestic strokeplayers who don't know how to graft, at least when under run-rate pressure which requires scoring as well as blocking.

In suggesting that it is a peculiarly English problem, however, Fox has not been paying sufficient attention to the Indian team. How often have Rohit Sharma or Suresh Raina gritted out a match-winning 70 in testing conditions?

The old adage says that form is temporary and class is permanent. It may well be that that is true, but only if you correctly define “class”.

Both England and India have selectors who define class as elegant technique and great timing, and believe that players possessing them are more likely to succeed than batsmen who look to be struggling. I can understand that: when I watch a county game, the batsman who plays beautifully is far more likely to catch my eye. I learn to appreciate batsmen who play solidly for the counties I follow much earlier than those I see only occasionally for an opposition.

An Australian selector going to watch a domestic game has fewer matches to choose from than his English or Indian counterpart. He will inevitably see players more often and notice much earlier that the same ugly bloke keeps getting 75 while the fancy dans get out for 3 against the better bowlers at least as often as they glide to 123 in less challenging circumstances. Such a selector may well acquire a different definition of class.

Where having large numbers of teams may hurt both England and India could lie less in lowering the standard of play than in preventing any given selector seeing enough of the unattractive players to tell the Allan Borders from the genuinely incompetent. What it then amounts to is class prejudice: the selectors favour those who bat like aristocrats rather than artisans – and snobbery is a recipe for decadent failure.

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Posted by Nikhil Krishnan on (September 21, 2009, 12:18 GMT)

@ Alien from Andromeda

Mate, you are talking complete and utter rubbish! Almost 99% of the cricketing fraternity would agree that Sachin and Lara are both included in the definition of class in the cricketing context. Of course the likes of Ponting and to a lesser extent Kallis will be included in this definition too. You probably need to watch a little more cricket, or maybe even play it from time to time to get a better understanding of this topic!

But of course, you will respond with a typical 'Sachin lacks class' argument......who am i to argue? Why not just take the time to see what Sachin's contemporaries say about him and his 'class'? But then again, maybe i underestimate you and your ego. You must know more than all those who have played (including the likes of Richie Benaud, Sir Donald Bradman, Ian Chappell to name a few) and are currently playing international cricket....

Posted by greyblazer on (September 16, 2009, 3:59 GMT)

Yeah Bell scored 3 hundreds against Gul,Sami, Shahid Nazir, Razzaq and Kaneria and now they have Gul, Ajmal, Kaneria, the young promising quick Ameer.

I don't think too many batsmen would think a bowling attack of Nazir, Sami, Razzaq and Kaneria is good.

Bell scored 199 on a flat deck at Lords and most of the batsmen scored runs in that match. In the same way Bopara also has scored runs on flat decks in the Caribbean.

Posted by greyblazer on (September 16, 2009, 3:54 GMT)

England had already got a lead and Bell scored those runs when the pitch was flat.

His improvement is shown by the fact his average is now below 40!

Posted by Jackie on (September 15, 2009, 23:03 GMT)

Ian Bell is over criticised. He's still only 27 and he made a crucial comeback in the Ashes. It took mental strength with England on 12-1 in the first innings of the must win game to knock 72 on a dodgy pitch, top scoring. As for his Napier innings, just a wonderful century to watch with 18 boundaries and 1 six, it was his PARTNERSHIP with Strauss that took the game away from NZ. Bell has had appalling media attacks to rival those on Harmison, another media fall guy. If Aussies had to put up with that, then they might struggle more. It is ridiculous to couple Bell with Bopara. The latter bats like a novice in comparison. Bell had 3 consecutive 100s against Pakistan, which was then a much stronger side. His 199 was against SA. Bell had a good record at 5 (av of 56) but was pushed to bat at 3 after Vaughan's resignation. The media wanted Shah. Then Bopara. Now back to Bell. He is class. He needs nurturing. Funny how Australia nurture their players unlike England.

Posted by aniket on (September 15, 2009, 18:30 GMT)

@ Alien from Andromeda:i think YOU should look closely what sachin has achieved and scoring in 4th innings is not only basis of measuring the class.what happen when you are 20/2 in 1st innnings,sachin has saved india from such situation innumerable times.no other batsman (ofcourse other than lara)can claim that.

Posted by Ashok Sridharan on (September 14, 2009, 10:45 GMT)

I frequently hear of Australia having the 'advantage' of just 6 teams and that the number of teams in India/ England dilutes the standard of competition.

The idea sounds logical, except India's population is over 50 times that of Australia and consequently, the player base runs into hundreds, perhaps even thousands. Add to it the sheer hetrogenity of the country (unimaginable for anyone who has never travelled around India). With all that, handful of sides will just not suit Indian conditions. The problem in India is structural really- nothing to do with the number of sides in domestic cricket.

Posted by Anonymous on (September 14, 2009, 7:09 GMT)

As others have pointed out Tendulkar has scored hundreds in the fourth innings.

Secondly he has scored runs at Perth, Madras, Colombo, Wellington, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, Headingley, Capetown etc. It shows that he has scored runs when the track has assisted spinners, when it has helped the swingers and when it has helped the fast bowlers like at Perth.

He has also scored runs under pressure.

So I don't see any basis for argument.

Posted by greyblazer on (September 14, 2009, 7:00 GMT)

As some have already said only a few cricketers have more fourth innings hundreds than Tendulkar and Tendulkar himself has 3!

Let us look at a few more of his knocks under pressure.

India were 59 for 5 and Tendulkar scores about 160 to take India to 360 at Capetown against Donald and Pollock.

He scores a superb hundred against England at Madras in 2008 to take India to victory.

He scored a century to save India from certain defeat at Old Trafford in 90/91. India were 6 down and it looked they will be easily defeated before Tendulkar scored that hundred.

India were again in all sort of trouble in SA in 2001 before Tendulkar scored a hundred.

So do you want more?

Posted by Asif Rathod on (September 14, 2009, 5:44 GMT)

For me, "CLASS" is all about how the player is leaving his impression in your mind. You'll watch many players playing their game, they all have unique style, unique flair in their game. Some of them, you like very much to see playing, and some of them are really awful. "CLASS" and "GREATNESS" are two different things. Any player can be classy but it doesn't mean, he is a great one. In my opinion players like Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Mohd. Yusuf, Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Jaques Kallis are calssy players, why? I love watching them play.

Posted by Alien from Andromeda on (September 13, 2009, 18:08 GMT)

Ahh yes the pure optimism of the human species to jump on anything they perceive as leeway. Given the small space allocated to comments I was limited and failed to mention during editing the "4th innings hundred to WIN anything". I have made all the relevant comments on this Tendulkar subject that I see fit to mention. He is obviously lacking in class if you take a close look at what he has achieved. ---- @MartinAmber: The problem with English cricketers seems to be in their minds. They seem inherently negative or can degrade to a very negative state in adversity. Bell stands out as mentally stronger than many other candidates for the national side, although he has not translated it into significant scores. But, he is a class ahead of someone like Bopara who is very weak minded and will get worse with failure. For Trott it is left to be seen what will happen with a few failures. The press I think is one of the biggest issues for English players, they over analyze and abuse a human flaw

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