March 28, 2012

Spin: only on a washing machine

It’s an art that England just don’t do

Tuesday, 27th March The England batting order is starting to resemble one of those sets of building bricks that toddlers like to play with. You can stack them in any order, perhaps moving Bell here, maybe taking out a Morgan and putting in a Patel, but whatever you do, the whole wobbly construction ends up in a heap on the floor, with a delighted spin bowler clapping his hands gleefully and shouting “Again, again!”

This time it was Rangana Herath carrying out the demolition but it could just as easily have been Herath’s great aunt, his ten-year-old niece or a suitably motivated orangutan. It seems that any sentient being capable of propelling the ball towards the English batsmen at under 50mph is on to a winner.

Is it genetic? Is the doosra-picking gene missing from the English DNA? Or is it biological? Just as dogs can’t see certain colours, perhaps English people can’t work out whether a spherical object is spinning clockwise or anti-clockwise. Or could it be educational? Does the chapter on spin bowling in the England coaching manual read, “Take a big stride forward, don’t look at the umpire and hope for the best”?

Whatever the cause, some of the Sri Lankans had clearly been standing too close to their English counterparts and had caught a nasty dose of Spin Fever themselves. On a pitch that had all the menace of a warm sponge cake, Monty Panesar’s understudy persuaded Sri Lanka’s finest to add their wickets to the bonfire of batsmanship and so end another madcap episode of Test cricket 2012 style.

And how exactly did the five-day game become so exciting? It doesn’t seem so long ago that Sri Lanka and India (or it may have been India and Sri Lanka) were competing to see who could produce the dullest Test innings ever (with India’s 707 in 1352 balls in Colombo the clear winner) on pitches that would have caused Fred Spofforth to weep and Jeff Thomson to pack it in and take up ballet.

But now it’s five wickets a session and all done on the third day. I’m beginning to suspect that at some point last year, a deal was reached between the Bowlers Union and the Society of Batsmen, whereby, in return for the thousands of cheap runs they had accumulated in recent months, the willow wielders of the world agreed to bat with their eyes closed for the first half of 2012, just to even things up.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England