Mike Holmans July 26, 2011

A thank you letter

Dear Mr Strauss and Mr Dhoni,

Dear Mr Strauss and Mr Dhoni,

Thank you for my birthday present of an excellent Test match at Lord's. It was very kind of you to give me such a lavish gift, which I was able to share with my good friend Bharat, a gentleman originally from Hyderabad who now runs a research lab in Pennsylvania and has said that he will be in the Warner Stand for England-India Tests at Lord's until either one of us is too decrepit to manage it. Even though he didn't care for the result as much as I did, he too says that it was a very enjoyable match.

I particularly appreciated your arranging that two of my favourite batsmen should score centuries.

The one by Kevin Pietersen was very unexpected. Not so much that he got one – I've seen him get several before – but the way he got it was most unusual. I hadn't known that he had it in him to play so carefully for so long. He often goes slowly for the first three-quarters of an hour or so, during which time he usually gets the chance to have a look at most of the main bowlers before deciding how he is going to approach the serious business of destroying them, but I've never before seen him play himself in until he reaches 130.

Of course the main reason I like watching him is his power to devastate bowling attacks, and I don't really want to see him block, leave, prod and nudge for hours on end; however, it is very gratifying to know that he can do it when that is what the situation and the quality of the bowling demand. We all know he wants to be the world's No. 1 batsman, and with this innings he has taken a giant step towards realising his ambition one day.

And then there was Rahul Dravid's hundred. He has always been my favourite among the phalanx of marvellous batsmen India have had these last 15 years or so, and this was a classic example of why. His batting is wonderfully serene and effortlessly economical. Without any fuss, he calmly treats every ball with appropriate respect, good ones defended or left, bad ones gently dismissed towards the boundary. You hardly ever see him hurried into a shot, even by the fastest bowlers, and he plays late enough to incur library fines. How reassuring it must be for his teammates when they are under pressure to see him contentedly grazing runs out there in the middle.

You also gave me a new hero to watch out for in the future.

Praveen Kumar looks like the kind of cricketer Nasser Hussain once described as being prepared to run through brick walls for his captain, and thus a captain's dream. When one of your main bowlers breaks down mid-match, the others have to shoulder more of the burden to make up for it. In England's first innings, Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma with their combined 130 Tests conspicuously failed to take up any of the slack whereas Praveen the Lionheart, a young man in only his fourth match, performed titanically.

Pietersen was the only one of England's strong middle order who succeeded in preventing him from getting them out, and even KP did not find him easy to cope with. He may not be quick and he may be pretty much cannon fodder if the ball won't swing for him, but when it does move around, his lack of pace is irrelevant.The England backroom staff are going to have to do some very minute examination of the videos to see if there is any reasonable way of detecting which way a given delivery is likely to swing, but I doubt they will come up with anything helpful. Ian Bell seems in particular need of assistance: even though he managed to get 45 runs, he was completely at sea when Praveen was bowling to him.

And Praveen also batted appropriately in both innings. He is obviously not very good, so chancing his arm with a few lusty blows to try and boot the total over the crossbar of the follow-on target was a perfectly reasonable approach in the first innings. Second time around, he did his best to hang around for Suresh Raina by dead-batting deliveries. It didn't work for very long, but at least he was doing what the team wanted him to do, unlike Harbhajan's ridiculous skyer. (Remembering the little contretemps Matt Prior's bat had with a dressing room window earlier this season, I was rather expecting to hear that Mr Dhoni had had to go down and apologise to the MCC members who were hurt when they had a spin bowler dropped on them from the balcony after he returned to the dressing room.)

Gentlemen, I could go on for a lot longer about the various delightful nuggets I found in my present but you no doubt have practice to supervise and fitness reports to digest before you pick your teams for Trent Bridge so I'll just leave it at those three highlights.

Thanks again,

Michael

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