England v India 2011 August 10, 2011

Why England have a stable of fast bowlers

They really do – a proper paddock, with straw, oats and all the rest of it

Sunday, 7th August That Zaheer Khan won’t be playing again this series is the least surprising injury update since the Philistine physio confirmed that Goliath wouldn’t be available for the rematch against the Israelites.

Zaheer’s body is clearly sabotaging itself. The fibres in his hamstring have made the ultimate sacrifice and spontaneously torn themselves in half so that his creaky ankles and burned out swing neurons can get some R and R.

This is nothing new, of course. Fast bowlers have been breaking down since Lumpy Stevens of Hambledon first dislocated his left pinky attempting a fast-medium underarm topspinning doosra against Old Peculiars in 1751. For most of the 1990s, I watched an attack that was cobbled together from the parts of English bowlers that still functioned: Cork’s larynx, Caddick’s ears, Gough’s buttocks.

That is why these days England have a stable of fast bowlers. That is not just an expression. Somewhere near Newmarket is an ECB facility where Onions, Bresnan and Finn are safely installed. Every morning, they are allowed to trot around the paddock, fed sugar lumps, given a pat on the nose, then put back safely into their stall with a blanket, a pile of straw and access to a Twitter account.

But even with 24-hour mollycoddling and regular veterinary inspections, the thoroughbred fast bowler can still succumb to a staggering range of ailments, from Anderson Syndrome (characterised by an inability to swear with conviction) to Zaheeritis (a severe allergic reaction to sweets). The lesson is that if you want a tasty Test omlette, you shouldn’t put all your victory eggs in a Zaheer-shaped basket.

Monday, 8th August “If we don’t make mistakes or do anything silly, we should win.”

So says Tamim Iqbal and it’s hard to disagree. In fact, therein is the whole story of our sport. Every bad cricket thing that has ever happened since the first neanderthal threw the first rock at his brother, who happened to be standing in front of a tree stump holding a mammoth tusk, and was hit for six (boundaries in the Pleistocene period being notoriously short) can be categorised either as “Mistake” or “Silly”.

Into the “Mistake” box go all those wafts outside the off stump resulting in a nick so faint that only dogs and wicketkeepers can hear them; the times when the ball went through your legs because you couldn’t bend down far enough; and pretty much everything that Kamran Akmal did after he cleared customs at Perth International Airport in December 2009. And under “Silly” we can file Ian Bell’s amnesia, Dennis Lillee’s metal bat and Sreesanth’s interpretation of a man with fire ants in his trousers.

If you can manage to keep these two columns empty then you will probably win every Test match by an innings and lots of runs. History tells us that this hardly ever happens, particularly not to Bangladesh. They’ve spent the six years since the old Zimbabwe were expelled from Test Match High School being picked on by everyone else, and it will be particularly depressing if the new Zimbabwe starts bullying them too. Seem like they’ll have to wait a while to get their own whipping boys, at least until the ICC grant Papua New Guinea, Alaska or Narnia their long overdue Test status.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England