September 5, 2013

The unsung micro-Botham

In this Ashes series, Tim Bresnan was statistically unspectacular but impactful

Has a player who did not score a half-century or take three wickets in an innings ever had a greater impact on a series than Tim Bresnan on this year's Ashes? He totalled 103 runs at an average of 25 and ten wickets at fractionally under 30. Hardly numbers that explode out of the scorebook, but his performance was of enormous value.

With the bat, his turgid nightwatchman's grind at Lord's helped to snuff out Australia's microscopic hopes of coming back from the dead, then, more importantly, he played with solidity in the first innings at the Riverside, helping Graeme Swann and James Anderson add 40 precious runs for the last two wickets. His second-innings 45 - solid while supporting specialist batsmen, then punishingly aggressive with the tail - was priceless, as England's last three wickets added a match-turning 79.

With the ball, nine of his ten wickets were of top-six batsmen, including two of the first three wickets at Lord's, sparking the Australian implosion that essentially confirmed the destination of the urn, and the pivotal wicket of David Warner in Durham, just as the intermittently brilliant left-hander was on the verge of turning the game decisively Australia's way. He added the wicket of Shane Watson, leaving Brad Haddin and the tail to either (a) score 120 to win, or (b) be swept away by Stuart Broad. They chose (b). Or perhaps had (b) chosen for them by Broad.

He was statistically unspectacular but impactful. In his five Ashes Tests, two in the last series and three this time, 17 of his 21 wickets have been top-six batsmen; one more was Haddin; he has also dismissed the bowling allrounders Mitchell Johnson and Ashton Agar; his sole genuine tail-end Ashes wicket was Ben Hilfenhaus, and even that had the added glory of being the final, Ashes-confirming wicket in the MCG Test in 2010-11.

Like Ian Bell, he was emerging from a significant slump. It was aggravated by injury but two wickets for 420 in four Tests, against South Africa and in India, while conceding 3.5 runs per over, and failing to pass 20 with the bat, were hardly numbers to write home about, unless that missive was to say, "Stock up on my favourite biscuits, I won't be playing much Test cricket for a while."

The selectors trusted him to recapture his form of 2010 and 2011; Bresnan rediscovered his game. Both deserve great credit.

He is the first bowler to have taken ten or more wickets in an Ashes series without taking three in an innings, and only the third England bowler to reach double figures in any series without bagging a three-for (Flintoff took 10 at 59 in five Tests against South Africa in 2003, and Laker 11 at 29 in the five-match rubber in South Africa in 1956-57). Only four other players have scored at least 100 runs in a series at an average of 25 or higher, and taken at least ten wickets at an average of 30 or lower, without either scoring a half-century or taking four wickets in an innings. And only Bresnan has done so without even taking three in an innings. To future cricket-loving generations, he might barely be noticeable on the 2013 Ashes scorecards, but Bresnan has been England's unsung micro-Botham.

I'll be back in late September, with some thoughts on Cook's much-maligned and much-praised captaincy - I think both sides of the argument are, essentially, right. I will also, hopefully, be touring India with a cricket-and-global-politics-themed stand-up show in October. I'll keep you posted here, and on my @ZaltzCricket Twitter feed.

In the meantime, one final statistic for all those who sat through England's miserable batting on Friday and thought to themselves: "I have paid £65 for this. I wanted to see history being made." Well, you did see history being made. For the first time ever in Test history (admittedly including only games for which balls faced have been recorded), a team's top six all scored 25 or more, and all at a strike rate of less than 40 runs per 100 balls. This was not "proper Test cricket" or "a day for the connoisseur". It was unnecessary, and unparalleled, (and, I would argue, not particularly effective) collective hyper-caution.

Until late September, goodbye, all hail to the Sledgehammer of Eternal Justice and his three series-defining centuries of Dravidian silk and steel, some of the finest English batsmanship of all time.

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

  • Isaac on September 10, 2013, 12:45 GMT

    TB may be a hearty sort who is useful to have about the place, but let's face it he really isn't any great shakes at the top level. He's lived off his good fortune in happening to have the ball in his hand when the Aussies finally imploded in Melbourne for a long time. Up against real class he's no use at all, except perhaps that he won't start sulking so easily as some ahem and will thereby be a more agreeable presence on the screen. That said, while the pretenders are being sorted out from the serious prospects he's jolly useful to slot in - just as he did in this series when Finn was losing it. I'll buy him a pint.

  • Dominic on September 6, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    Bresnan has always seemed to me to be a bit like a bowling equivalent of Paul Collingwood, someone who is able to squeeze every last drop and perhaps a little bit more out of their talents in a way that means that, while he'll never convert his detractors - the ones who say that he's not test class, he'll just quietly go about making them look foolish a fair amount of the time.

  • E on September 5, 2013, 20:32 GMT

    His contribution belies the stats nto only for the quality of his wickets - there weren't many wickets left for Bres with 26-wicket Swann around and Broad and Jimmy taking ten-fors- but also for his control as a supporting third seamer. Especially holding up the other end for Broad in the 2nd inns at Durham (and bagging a couple himself).

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2013, 18:59 GMT

    Lawson, well said. I also think Bressie brings a lot that doesn't reflect in the stats. And as a Yorkie, may I return the compliment by saying that Jimmy A is England's finest bowler for many a long year. Long may they both benefit England.

  • Clifford on September 5, 2013, 16:15 GMT

    Bresnan, Broad, and Swann all averaged 25 which for 8, 9, 10 (on what were mostly "result" pitches or a least not pure batting tracks) is pretty good and certainly impactful over the course of the series. As I recall these three have also been big contributors with the bat at home over the last couple years. When you add the fact that all three + Anderson averaged below 30 with the ball (only achieved by one other front line Aussie bowler - Harris) you see how much England owe this series win to their bowlers.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2013, 15:04 GMT

    Even as Lancastrian I appreciate the benefits of having Yorkshire Bresnan in the Test team. He may only be a 'bits & pieces' player (as his style of player used to be described) but boy what bits & pieces. As Andy says, not many runs, but just look at the context in which they were scored; not many wickets, but look at who he got & the state of the game at the time. I'm surely not the only one who hopes he recovers in time for the Down Under Ashes series.

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