December 4, 2013

The importance of Bres

Workmanlike players like him can be pillars for teams, not to mention foils to a side's superstars

Tim Bresnan: spade work and hard yards © PA Photos

Sometimes, nothing becomes a cricketer like his absence. England have brought Tim Bresnan back into the Ashes squad after a gentle work-out against the Queensland 2nd XI, his four wickets and a fifty burnished by the Southern sun and the warm memories of similar efforts for the Test team over the years.

It's not the low-grade runs and wickets of the last week that England are valuing so much as the presence in the national side of a particular cricketing archetype: the yeoman player. Unflashy, rarely the star but always chipping in and happy to be there. Every team should have one, and many great teams do.

Among the tweeted congrats to KP before his 100th Test in Brisbane was one from Paul Collingwood. In reply, Pietersen called Colly his favourite batting partner. They scored a lot of runs together - notably in Adelaide - and how England and KP miss him too, for Collingwood was the stoutest of yeoman players. What would Flower and Cook give to be able to ink his name on the team sheet at No. 6 without a second thought. It's not often remarked upon, because yeomen players rarely are, but he has been missed and never adequately replaced. Once more it took absence to emphasise the qualities he brought.

The yeoman won't play the KP or Lara innings, the knock that lives on in the imagination; he is not there to produce the bowling spell that turns a game, even a series, on its head. He's not the first on TV or the magazine cover. But he'll chip you out fifty when the big guns are back in the hutch, he'll break that partnership just before the new ball is due, he'll do the spadework and the hard yards, and he'll probably be the last guy out of the changing rooms and the first at the bar.

There's an earthy quality to some cricketers that rejects any notion of stardom. Their motives are easier to see as pure because they're happy to be where they are, and the work they've put in to get there is more obvious than in those of silkier ability. Their impact emerges not immediately but over time, the cog that they turn becomes an intrinsic part of the machine.

Aside from what they do, players like Bresnan and Collingwood contribute through what they bring out of the others too. Pietersen and Collingwood for example, worked because Collingwood had no desire to hold the centre of the stage. He made KP feel good as well as look good. By contrast, when Pietersen was first in the England side, there was lots of lip-smacking chat over what might happen when he and Andrew Flintoff were at the crease together. The answer was: not much.

When teams are playing well, the yeoman is not often noticed, but, as with England at the moment, when the tide goes out and the problems that have been covered by the water protrude, they feel like the reassuring sight of a ship on the horizon.

As they ponder a team for Adelaide, an XI that will arrest this entropic slide, Flower and Cook know that Bresnan will run in for them. He might not be the edge that they need, but he will deepen the heartbeat of the team, and he won't be complaining that he's not quite fit or is still short of cricket. It's not in the yeoman's nature to let things like that stand in his way. Just his presence will bring some calm, some good vibes of better days. When his country calls, a yeoman always answers.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here