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July 22, 2013

Notes arising from Lord's

Jon Hotten
"Hey Joe, where do you see yourself ten years from now?"  © Getty Images
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It's hard to think of batsmen as different from each other as Graeme Smith and Joe Root, yet they do share something. Smith began opening the batting for South Africa in his third Test match, at the age of 21. Root has moved to the top of the order in his seventh game and is 22. Smith's career has, in part, been an epic of pressure and endurance. He seems to have been around forever, yet is still only 32 years old.

It's a position shared by Alastair Cook, who was also 22 when he began opening for England. He is only 28, has played 94 Tests and has already made more centuries for his country than anyone else. He is perhaps halfway down his road.

One of the few considerations England might not have made when moving Root up was about exactly how long they would be asking him to do the job for. If he retains his place in the side until he's 35, he will still be opening for England in 2026. If he is as cussed and in love with his profession as another son of the White Rose, Geoffrey Boycott, he'll be walking out to bat at the age of 41 in 2032. WG played for England for the last time at 50, which would mean Root would still be there in season 2051.

There is a more serious point. The careers of bowlers are limited by their bodies. The careers of batsmen are limited by the mind. The accrual of scar tissue, the endless pressure of dismissal by a single mistake, wear away at the psyche. Opening the batting is the sharpest place of all for that. To do it for more than a decade is a huge ask.

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When Hot Spot was first introduced, a mischievous rumour began that it could be beaten by rubbing Vaseline into the edge of the bat, thus reducing the friction made by the ball and eliminating the white mark of guilt. It was a theory quickly rubbished by the tech nerds, but more Machiavellian minds - like mine - turned towards it again after a couple of Ashes Tests in which some thin outside edges have left barely visible or no marks for the Hot Spot technology but have nonetheless shown up well on Snicko, stump mikes and super slo-mo replays.

It's more than likely that some very fine edges have contributed to the general DRS angst, but it would be interesting to hear something from the Hot Spot makers as to why it is happening. Taking an even more arch view, it's not a problem that has extended to the inside edge of the bat, where it is, of course, often in the batsman's interest for the mark to show up, or when flicking the pad.

There's a temptation to think of technology as unchanging and infallible, and yet it is neither. Who knows what equipment will be available to umpires and broadcasters in five years' time? There may be sensors in bat or ball for all we know. Until then, it's a fair question to ask. What are the margins for error in Hot Spot?

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England could probably replace Kevin Pietersen with Geoffrey Boycott's mother and her stick of rhubarb and still win the series from here, but if KP is missing with his sore calf, he leaves a lacuna that we cannot fill.

The truth is, without him, England's batting is exemplary and dull. Nothing becomes him more than his absence, because with him departs the x-factor, the knowledge that among all of the ruthless competence sits something extraordinary.

There's nothing wrong with James Taylor or Ravi Bopara or Nick Compton, but they are more of the same when what's needed is the thrill of something unique.

For sheer batting talent only one player comes close, and that is Eoin Morgan. He may be underprepared and just back from injury and all the rest of it, but he is a player that makes the heart beat faster, whose intelligence, invention and modernity suggest the future. He's also a better player than Jonny Bairstow. England shouldn't let him slip away to the white ball.

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Posted by   on (July 23, 2013, 16:51 GMT)

The only place where technology works well in cricket is in run-out decisions. But for lbw & catches, it is much beyond touch-and-go decisions. Its ambiguous. Its time ICC limit 3rd umpire decisions only for run-outs, leave the rest to on-field umpires and scrap the challenge system.

Posted by jackiethepen on (July 23, 2013, 15:49 GMT)

I think matt merritt has a point. Eoin Morgan struggled in Test cricket because he had technical faults which bowlers could expose. Morgan has not been scoring much in ODIs either. He has been getting runs in t20s. The problem with the Australian Test batsmen seems to be that they are all playing one day cricket. I think one of their perceptive critics claimed that they appeared to have no defensive technique. Why waste time on that when a good t20 innings lasts barely half an hour? You just can't put that right in a day. KP seems out of sorts. Maybe not enough match practice before Test cricket. One injury can lead to another. He ought to play more County cricket before another 5-day game. We need him fit in Australia for the return Series. If Cook and Trott start to get runs we ought to be able to retain the Ashes in the Third Test. Bell has been superb. Hard to praise him enough. He tipped the balance in England's favour from the moment he got a century in the first Test.

Posted by   on (July 23, 2013, 12:52 GMT)

If you've found watching Bell's two hundreds dull, Jon, or Root's innings, I think it's a fair bet that you just don't like test cricket. Let Morgan earn a place by actually scoring some first-class runs. Until he does he should be way behind Taylor in the queue (and if you're also calling him dull, you clearly haven't watched him bat very often).

Posted by android_user on (July 23, 2013, 7:17 GMT)

root is a good player but without kp England army not fullfilled

Posted by   on (July 22, 2013, 21:26 GMT)

Eoin Morgan's inability to prove that he can bat in the longer format, does not suggest the future. Yes he is a flair player and offers something different. However, that doesn't mean he is the answer. He wouldn't be slipping away to the white ball. He would be playing in the format where he has proven he is capable. Teams in the past have been criticised for having too many of their Test players in their limited overs side when they were not suited to the shorter format. So why does it not also work in the other direction? Bairstow is hardly of the steady mould that most of the the other England players are. He needs time to find his feet, which against a pathetic excuses for an Australian team he has the perfect opportunity.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Hotten
Jon Hotten is the author of Muscle and The Years Of The Locust, neither of which is about cricket, and writes the blog The Old Batsman, which is. @theoldbatsman

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