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Tim Bresnan is a novelist's fast bowler: straight-talking, uncomplicated, northern, broad. He is wide-hipped and strong-armed; kind-eyed and big-handed. And destined, or so it seemed, to be forever underrated. But in the summer of 2011 the jovial Yorkshire pudding of the public imagination proved a sophisticated, zingy all-rounder. In three Tests he took 16 wickets at 16 each against the world's most majestic batting line-up, and averaged 77 with the bat. Were he flashier, he would have caused national palpitations.
After a wonderful end to the Ashes, the spring had brought more injury. But his big chance came at Trent Bridge in July when Chris Tremlett was unfit. Bresnan's bowling, especially to India's middle order, was short-pitched and ferocious, and he took his first Test five-for. Earlier in the day, he had completed a joyful 90. "You don't beat that often," he says, "though I wouldn't have minded a hundred - it might just have sneaked me Man of the Match from Broady."
The Third Test arrived at Edgbaston, where Bresnan made another fifty, claimed five wickets in the match and bowled the ball of the summer to the Zen master Rahul Dravid. Just before lunch on the first day, Bresnan exploded one off the pitch and knocked out his off stump. "The look on his face… I'm going to tell you that I set him up, but I'd been trying to do that for two Tests."
At The Oval, he picked up four more wickets and found himself part of the No. 1 Test team in the world. Bresnan's weapons are formidable: disconcerting bounce and a heavy ball which hits the bat higher than expected. His batting method - "stay still, watch the ball, hit the ball" - is simple but effective after sessions with Andy Flower and Graham Gooch.
The one downside of the summer was that he played only three Championship games for his beloved Yorkshire, who ended up relegated. "If I could have helped, I'd have done anything," he says. "I love being around the boys. I've pretty much grown up with most of them lads."
TIMOTHY THOMAS BRESNAN was born on February 28, 1985, in Pontefract Hospital, West Yorkshire. He is the second brother of three, from a family where cricket is curled into the crevices of the bones. His mum Julie, when not making the teas, taught him how to bat behind the scoreboard at Townville CC, where his dad Ray was a skinny opening bowler. Tim would play anywhere - the drive, Townville, Castleford and, from 11, the Yorkshire age-group sides. And he was good, always walking away with runs and wickets. The only thing that kept him from cricket and the outdoors was a Meccano set: "I wasn't doing my homework, that's for sure." In June 2001, at 16 years 102 days, he became the youngest to make his first-team debut for Yorkshire since Paul Jarvis, 20 years earlier.
He got ten GCSEs and was persuaded to go to college, but his attendance was terrible and he had a deeply sceptical approach to the psychology A-level that the optimistic Julie had signed him up for. When England Under-19s came knocking, that was that. Still 16, he went to New Zealand for the Under-19 World Cup. As soon as he learned to drive, he was up at Headingley every day, bowling at the first team in the nets. He was on the staff at 17.
It was at Headingley that Bresnan met the man who, his dad aside, has been his greatest cricket influence. Steve Oldham was Yorkshire's bowling coach and it was his wise decision to leave that fluid, galloping-carthorse action well alone. "If I'm playing a one-dayer on the other side of the world and Steve is sat at home watching on TV, at the end of play I'll have a text saying 'front arm jumping out a bit'. He knows me better than I know myself when it comes to bowling." Oldham remembers a young boy with "all the requirements to be a fast bowler - strong shoulders and strong hips. He looked very natural, both with bat and ball, and was always confident in his own ability. You do get a feeling, and he always looked a bit special."
Bresnan came into a Yorkshire side at the pit-end of the drinking era. "They loved a swill, would work hard and play hard. I still remember how the benches went round this big square room; I'd just keep my mouth shut and listen." Craig White and Darren Gough taught him reverse-swing. Later, Naved-ul- Hasan showed him how to bowl cross-seam and hit the rough side.
Progress was steady. He won his county cap in 2006, and was called up for England's limited-overs sides. And on he bowled for Yorkshire, never saying no, unless sidelined by injury. His pace dropped and, by the autumn of 2008, he'd just had enough. He was picked for the England Performance Programme in 2008-09, but their tour of India was cut short by the Mumbai terrorist attack. Instead he resolved to get fitter. It worked. He made his debut in the First Test against West Indies in 2009.
Limited opportunities followed, and it wasn't until the tour of Bangladesh in the spring of 2010 that he sparkled. On somnolent pitches and in intense heat, he kept on rolling along, accurate, relentless, methodical. Flower was impressed. Nine months later in the Ashes, with Steven Finn proving expensive even while taking wickets, Bresnan was picked for Melbourne, cheered all the way by bowling coach David Saker. His job was to keep down the runs.
His parents had just flown over and there were nearly 90,000 in the ground. The series was poised at 1-1. He ran in for his first ball. It pitched on leg and straightened. "I was like, 'you're all right here,' so then all I had to do was bowl straight." In his second over, Phil Hughes edged to gully. Bresnan took four wickets in the second innings, bowled well at Sydney and ended up an Ashes winner. Life couldn't get any better… until Trent Bridge.
By the end of last summer, Bresnan had won all of his ten Tests, and he signed his first central contract in the autumn. Once only pencilled on to the team-sheet, now he is inked - even in a squad full of fast bowling and lower-order hitters. Elbow surgery in December eventually ruled him out of the New Year Tests in the UAE, where he was badly missed. He is funny company but has no lust for fame, and an unexpected taste for fancy coffee. And though there's not much spare on him now, he still has the air of a man with an emergency cheese sandwich in his back pocket.
The last word should go to Oldham. "It sounds boring, but he's a no-frills bloke from a super family from Castleford, where the people tend to be down to earth. And, as God is my witness, he's never been one ounce of trouble."