May 31, 2011

Tremlett invokes Ambrose and cooks the Bolognese

The empty seats of the Swalec Stadium gazed on in astonishment yesterday afternoon as a hitherto grey Test match careered to an explosive ‒ or, depending on your allegiance, implosive ‒ end
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The empty seats of the Swalec Stadium gazed on in astonishment yesterday afternoon as a hitherto grey Test match careered to an explosive ‒ or, depending on your allegiance, implosive ‒ end. England, having shown little real desire to win the game on day 4, blasted their way to a staggering victory with such ultimate comfort that, in the end, not only did they not regret wasting an extra 20 minutes whilst Bell completed one of the less significant hundreds of his increasingly impressive career, but they might now think they could have waited for Morgan to notch up the 86 more runs he needed to post three figures as well. Sri Lanka, who had played with skill and resilience in the first innings, left both of those useful attributes firmly locked in a safe deposit box in their hotel, and subsided like a badly timed soufflé in the face of the fire of Tremlett and the wiles of Swann.

New captain Dilshan and his men registered the seventh shortest completed Test innings since the Second World War, lasting 148 balls between them on a pitch on which their bowlers had taken English wickets at a rate of one every 186 deliveries. It is fair to say, in modern sporting parlance, that Sri Lanka had "a bad day at the office". As office days go, it was roughly equivalent to turning up to work to find that your swivel chair has been stolen and replaced with a stuffed porcupine, before your boss calls you in to give you a 90% pay cut, feeds your packed lunch to his pet iguana, and puts your trousers through his shredder, after which you return to your desk to find that your colleague has run off with your car keys, half-finished crossword and spouse, and your computer is frozen irretrievably on a YouTube video of Gary Kirsten’s unedited double-century at Old Trafford in 1998.

(I should point out that I have not spent much time working in offices. In the brief period of my life in which I did have an office job, every day was "a bad day at the office". In fact, even my days not at the office were bad – I took a week’s leave to go to that Old Trafford Test, spent two days watching Kirsten, and the remaining three regretting ever discovering cricket.)

The Strauss-Flower England thus added another superb Test triumph to their collection ‒ their fifth innings victory in their last seven matches, and their third in succession. England clocked up three innings victories in an entire decade in both the 1980s (all against Australia) and the 1990s (all against New Zealand), so these are boom times indeed for people who like seeing England win by an innings – the boomiest since the late 1950s, when one of England’s greatest teams obliterated West Indies and New Zealand in successive summers.

Yesterday’s win was facilitated by Tremlett, who surgically dismantled the high-class Sri Lankan top order in such a way that it would not have been entirely surprising if, at the post-match presentation, Mike Atherton had marched up to the Surrey paceman, said, “Come on Scooby, let’s see who he really is”, and ripped a latex face-mask off to reveal Curtly Ambrose underneath, before concluding: “I thought I recognised the way you were bowling.”

England’s selectors have had several major successes in recent years, Swann and Trott being the most prominent, and Tremlett is proving to be another. Like Swann before him, he has made a seamless transition in his late 20s from long-time county workhorse to international devastator. In his four Tests since his call-up to the Ashes squad, after a good if not Wisden-combusting 2010 season with Surrey, he has taken 22 wickets at an average of 23, and 16 of those dismissals have been top-six batsmen.

Tremlett should have been Man of the Match in this game – his three early wickets turned victory from an unlikely afterthought into a strong possibility, blitzing a strong upper order on a good batting pitch, and his fourth removed Prasanna Jayawardene, first-innings centurion and the final major barrier to success. In terms of impact on the game, his was the decisive performance. If England’s batsmen chopped the vegetables and minced the beef, it was Tremlett who cooked the Bolognese. Swann absolutely nailed some perfectly al dente spaghetti, some of the Sri Lankan batsmen suggested adding a tweak of nutmeg for depth of flavour, and Broad grated the cheese on top at the end. Yum.

As with Swann, Tremlett’s success prompts the question: did England err by not picking him more often earlier in his career; or is he only doing so well now because he arrived in the Test side as a rounded, experienced bowler? The answer is probably a bit of both, but, I think, more of the latter. It is impossible to say definitively, at least without recourse to a time machine, and, since the fall of Allen Stanford, that argument-settling device seems as far away as ever for cricket. The ICC should rightly concentrate on perfecting the DRS before investing its spare trillions in time travel. We will therefore have to wait for science to get its test-tube waggling act into gear before we finally know how Bradman would have fared against the 1980s West Indian attack, how much WG Grace would have made in advertising endorsements and IPL contracts if he had been around today, whether Ajit Agarkar would have been as lethal as SF Barnes on matting pitches, and how great a bowler Mohammad Amir might have become, if only Eve hadn’t been tempted by that juicy looking apple all those years ago.

All in all, another imposing performance by England, whose bowling is one of the joys of world cricket at the moment, and whose batting has taken on an aura of granite impregnability against the disastrously off-colour Australians and this understrength Sri Lankan line-up. What prompted this transformation late in 2010 remains unclear – whether is was the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the rescue of the Chilean miners, or the death of Norman Wisdom, something has inspired them.

STAT WHACK

1. Since the start of the Ashes, six England batsmen have been averaging over 40 – Cook 128, Trott 108, Bell 86, Pietersen 51, Prior 50, and Strauss 40. Over the course of their previous three major series, against Australia in 2009, in South Africa in 2009-10, and versus Pakistan last summer, only Trott (50) averaged over 40.

2. Since the start of last summer’s Pakistan series, England’s bowlers are collectively averaging 23.9. In the time between the start of the 2008 home series against South Africa and the end of the 2009-10 away series in South Africa, they averaged 37.4.

3. Yesterday was the third fastest England have bowled a side out since the Second World War, and the fifth fastest since Archduke Franz Ferdinand had his clogs forcibly popped, bringing an end to (a) world peace and (b) SF Barnes’ Test bowling career.

4. Sri Lanka can take some microscopic and stale crumbs of comfort from the fact that they lasted almost twice as long as South Africa did in their first innings in the first Test of 1924, when the tourists had the Edgbaston pavilion gate swinging like the toilet door at an incontinents’ drinking contest in being bowled out for 30 in 12.3 overs.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Abhijeet on July 6, 2011, 19:38 GMT

    “Come on Scooby, let’s see who he really is”, and ripped a latex face-mask off to reveal Curtly Ambrose underneath, before concluding: “I thought I recognised the way you were bowling.” lolzzz... hilarious !!

  • Jim on June 7, 2011, 1:03 GMT

    Ranga, how did you say Sachin was drinking milk in his toddler age. He was tearing away leather balls with still under-developed teeth. Richard, do you mean Christmas of 2031? You are really getting carried away, in a time machine. Andy Zaltz, Why do you torture the name of Gary Kirsten every time when Trott has made Gary look beautiful, looks like a tinge of patriotism in your judgement - not good! Talk about Trott the next time and going forward.

  • Jim on June 7, 2011, 0:37 GMT

    JMike, you missed the trick. You must have thought one of the other three wishes!

  • Alan Harrison on June 4, 2011, 12:19 GMT

    It seems to me that Tremlett, Swann and Trott's emergence (and, going back a few years, the emergence of Flintoff) demonstrates the application of a variation on what countries such as Pakistan have been doing with their emerging players for some years: give them an experience of international cricket when very young, and don't be afraid to drop them, making the assumption that the experience of international cricket is likely to help them later when they have become more fully developed players. Look at the career of Imran Khan as an example. The main difference however is that England rarely give that first experience to 16-19 year olds, which is what Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka have been less afraid to do.

  • Manoj on June 4, 2011, 6:48 GMT

    "Whether Ajit Agarkar would have been as lethal as SF Barnes on matting pitches!!!!!" Andy, you are the best !!!

  • Dirkie on June 3, 2011, 13:44 GMT

    Great piece Andy! So, you're saying that England will continue their great run of form as long as they don't come up against South Africa any time soon? Okay then.

  • Ranga on June 2, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    I loved the "time travel" bit . . . we are fascinated by fantasies such as Sir Don would average 75 in 2011 (when he had actually died at the stroke of the millenium . . . 11 years since his death, i am not sure how he would fare against Swanns and Andersons of today!!!!) . . .How would Sachin Tendulkar fare against Andy Roberts (when Sachin would have been a toddler drinking milk when Roberts was killing batsmen with his bouncers) . . . Fun indeed

  • Ashok on June 1, 2011, 18:54 GMT

    Vintage Andy!!! Can't keep your hands off tht Gary Kirsten knock!!! can ya???

  • Gary Persad on June 1, 2011, 16:15 GMT

    I enjoyed the article. The only problem I have with this England team is. All other teams select from their country only. While England selects their team from all the countries. Gary.

  • simon on June 1, 2011, 13:36 GMT

    "the death of Norman Wisdom" ?!?!

    thanks as always Andy -- Tremlett did, indeed, "cook the Bolognese" :D

  • Abhijeet on July 6, 2011, 19:38 GMT

    “Come on Scooby, let’s see who he really is”, and ripped a latex face-mask off to reveal Curtly Ambrose underneath, before concluding: “I thought I recognised the way you were bowling.” lolzzz... hilarious !!

  • Jim on June 7, 2011, 1:03 GMT

    Ranga, how did you say Sachin was drinking milk in his toddler age. He was tearing away leather balls with still under-developed teeth. Richard, do you mean Christmas of 2031? You are really getting carried away, in a time machine. Andy Zaltz, Why do you torture the name of Gary Kirsten every time when Trott has made Gary look beautiful, looks like a tinge of patriotism in your judgement - not good! Talk about Trott the next time and going forward.

  • Jim on June 7, 2011, 0:37 GMT

    JMike, you missed the trick. You must have thought one of the other three wishes!

  • Alan Harrison on June 4, 2011, 12:19 GMT

    It seems to me that Tremlett, Swann and Trott's emergence (and, going back a few years, the emergence of Flintoff) demonstrates the application of a variation on what countries such as Pakistan have been doing with their emerging players for some years: give them an experience of international cricket when very young, and don't be afraid to drop them, making the assumption that the experience of international cricket is likely to help them later when they have become more fully developed players. Look at the career of Imran Khan as an example. The main difference however is that England rarely give that first experience to 16-19 year olds, which is what Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka have been less afraid to do.

  • Manoj on June 4, 2011, 6:48 GMT

    "Whether Ajit Agarkar would have been as lethal as SF Barnes on matting pitches!!!!!" Andy, you are the best !!!

  • Dirkie on June 3, 2011, 13:44 GMT

    Great piece Andy! So, you're saying that England will continue their great run of form as long as they don't come up against South Africa any time soon? Okay then.

  • Ranga on June 2, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    I loved the "time travel" bit . . . we are fascinated by fantasies such as Sir Don would average 75 in 2011 (when he had actually died at the stroke of the millenium . . . 11 years since his death, i am not sure how he would fare against Swanns and Andersons of today!!!!) . . .How would Sachin Tendulkar fare against Andy Roberts (when Sachin would have been a toddler drinking milk when Roberts was killing batsmen with his bouncers) . . . Fun indeed

  • Ashok on June 1, 2011, 18:54 GMT

    Vintage Andy!!! Can't keep your hands off tht Gary Kirsten knock!!! can ya???

  • Gary Persad on June 1, 2011, 16:15 GMT

    I enjoyed the article. The only problem I have with this England team is. All other teams select from their country only. While England selects their team from all the countries. Gary.

  • simon on June 1, 2011, 13:36 GMT

    "the death of Norman Wisdom" ?!?!

    thanks as always Andy -- Tremlett did, indeed, "cook the Bolognese" :D

  • Richard S on June 1, 2011, 9:39 GMT

    Very amusing. England should ask if South Africa can come over straight after India, then we''d have that No1 spot by Christmas

  • MartinAmber on June 1, 2011, 9:38 GMT

    Very good! I particularly liked the Scooby-Doo bit.

    It is tiresome how often the Man of the Match award goes to the highest-scoring batsman, seemingly without consideration of context. I mean, take Headingley 2000 - who the hell remembers Michael Vaughan's 70-something more fondly than they recall Andy Caddick taking 4 wickets in an over? How can you possibly argue that a batsman had the biggest influence over a two-day Test?

  • Ace on June 1, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    "Sri Lanka, who had played with skill and resilience in the first innings, left both of those useful attributes firmly locked in a safe deposit box in their hotel." Cracked me up :p

  • Taurai on June 1, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    “Come on Scooby, let’s see who he really is”, hilarious as always, Andy. Big fan.

  • Mallik Rao on June 1, 2011, 4:44 GMT

    Outstanding stuff Andy, yet again. "If England’s batsmen chopped the vegetables and minced the beef, it was Tremlett who cooked the Bolognese." Such a nice line, so simple and elegant! :) Enjoyed it thoroughly.

  • Rami on June 1, 2011, 4:22 GMT

    This article is simply FANTASTIC!! Hats off to England!! This article has history and time travel bringing the greats of the past to the entertainment of today in the context of England winning with regularity!! The statistical analysis with past games and humor makes this article worth saving and re-reading. Thank You!!

  • skkider on June 1, 2011, 3:50 GMT

    empty sits gazed in astonishment......just brilliant!!

  • JackieL on June 1, 2011, 0:26 GMT

    Why was Bell's century less significant? Presumably England needed runs to declare? Bell contributed at a much higher rate than Cook and Trott otherwise we might not have gone ahead. His 103* was at a SR of 64 with 11 4s and 1 six. This compares to Cook SR 48 and Trott's 49.

    There is a tendency to downplay Bell's achievements. What a shame that you are following that trend because I love your humour.

    As for stats, isn't it important to remember that Trott joined the England team when he was 29? Hussey also had an amazing average when he joined the Australia team at a similar age.

    Bell is only just 29. Since he has come back into the England side he has had an amazing run, 19 games, 5 centuries, average of 61. Not only that he has contributed an important innings or two in every single Series he's played in. But you won't see a single article in the media about his comeback. He's also a sensational fielder. Not much of that either unless it is right under the nose of the camera.

  • me on May 31, 2011, 22:14 GMT

    “I thought I recognised the way you were bowling” was absolutely funny. Thanks for another great article

  • Nick on May 31, 2011, 21:45 GMT

    Gr8 article andy, top work

  • Andy on May 31, 2011, 20:16 GMT

    Absolute genius. Never has a cooking metaphor ever reached those heights.

  • praxis on May 31, 2011, 18:56 GMT

    Guess you really resent watching Kirsten's century in that match, don't you? This isn't the first time you mentioned it in your blog.

  • Truemans_ghost on May 31, 2011, 18:19 GMT

    And they would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those interfering kids

  • JMike on May 31, 2011, 18:03 GMT

    I claim personal credit for England's victory.

    I found a penny yesterday afternoon (east coast USA time) and tried to guess what good luck it might portend. Would my nine-year-old behave acceptably for the rest of our vacation-day outing? Would my recent attempts to lose weight show results on the bathroom scale tonight? Would my wife finally dress up in that ... [well, OK, I suppose this is a family blog so I'll just leave that thought right there]?

    Laughably unlikely, all of the above, I thought to myself. In fact, they're all probably less likely than that England declare on about a hundred-run lead and then blast Sri Lanka out for an innings victory.

    So I gave up trying to come up with a meaning.

    It's a nice, surprisingly shiny 2006 penny and I'm keeping it.

  • aLi on May 31, 2011, 17:49 GMT

    "how great a bowler Mohammad Amir might have become, if only Eve hadn’t been tempted by that juicy looking apple all those years ago"

    The proverb goes....

    Salt on a wound (Or something like that...!)

  • kP on May 31, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    Welcome Back Andy... u r a legend! Excellent post as usual

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  • kP on May 31, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    Welcome Back Andy... u r a legend! Excellent post as usual

  • aLi on May 31, 2011, 17:49 GMT

    "how great a bowler Mohammad Amir might have become, if only Eve hadn’t been tempted by that juicy looking apple all those years ago"

    The proverb goes....

    Salt on a wound (Or something like that...!)

  • JMike on May 31, 2011, 18:03 GMT

    I claim personal credit for England's victory.

    I found a penny yesterday afternoon (east coast USA time) and tried to guess what good luck it might portend. Would my nine-year-old behave acceptably for the rest of our vacation-day outing? Would my recent attempts to lose weight show results on the bathroom scale tonight? Would my wife finally dress up in that ... [well, OK, I suppose this is a family blog so I'll just leave that thought right there]?

    Laughably unlikely, all of the above, I thought to myself. In fact, they're all probably less likely than that England declare on about a hundred-run lead and then blast Sri Lanka out for an innings victory.

    So I gave up trying to come up with a meaning.

    It's a nice, surprisingly shiny 2006 penny and I'm keeping it.

  • Truemans_ghost on May 31, 2011, 18:19 GMT

    And they would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those interfering kids

  • praxis on May 31, 2011, 18:56 GMT

    Guess you really resent watching Kirsten's century in that match, don't you? This isn't the first time you mentioned it in your blog.

  • Andy on May 31, 2011, 20:16 GMT

    Absolute genius. Never has a cooking metaphor ever reached those heights.

  • Nick on May 31, 2011, 21:45 GMT

    Gr8 article andy, top work

  • me on May 31, 2011, 22:14 GMT

    “I thought I recognised the way you were bowling” was absolutely funny. Thanks for another great article

  • JackieL on June 1, 2011, 0:26 GMT

    Why was Bell's century less significant? Presumably England needed runs to declare? Bell contributed at a much higher rate than Cook and Trott otherwise we might not have gone ahead. His 103* was at a SR of 64 with 11 4s and 1 six. This compares to Cook SR 48 and Trott's 49.

    There is a tendency to downplay Bell's achievements. What a shame that you are following that trend because I love your humour.

    As for stats, isn't it important to remember that Trott joined the England team when he was 29? Hussey also had an amazing average when he joined the Australia team at a similar age.

    Bell is only just 29. Since he has come back into the England side he has had an amazing run, 19 games, 5 centuries, average of 61. Not only that he has contributed an important innings or two in every single Series he's played in. But you won't see a single article in the media about his comeback. He's also a sensational fielder. Not much of that either unless it is right under the nose of the camera.

  • skkider on June 1, 2011, 3:50 GMT

    empty sits gazed in astonishment......just brilliant!!