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The Light Roller

Cricket world riveted by best-worst-batter-in-the-world contest

And when we're not all agog for Trent Boult vs James Anderson, we're waiting to see whether Jay-Z will bring Brooklyn's finest PR skills to our game

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
15-Jun-2022
Trent Boult bats, England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test, Nottingham, 5th day, June 14, 2022

The perfect pose: eyes (probably) on the ball, feet planted apart for maximum balance, bat positioned like a fly swatter - only record-holders bat like this  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The conclusion of the IPL means we can finally turn our attention back to cricket for a little while - the apotheosis of which is, of course, the pursuit of glory in the Test match arena. Nothing beats the timeless verities of the five-day game, the crucible of white-hot competition between the greatest, most-skilled practitioners of our beloved sport.
By which the Light Roller means the extremely important race to determine who is the best worst batter of all time.
For those with a kink for tailender nonsense, England versus New Zealand has decent history - from Caddick, Mullally, Tufnell, Giddins and ignominy at The Oval to Monty Panesar swimming for his ground in Auckland. But the Trent Bridge Test, which, to be fair, had one or two things going for it, featured a slice of history to truly be cherished.
Tallying up the most runs ever scored by a No. 11 is very much in keeping with the you-don't-have-to-be-crazy-to-work-here-but-it-helps mood that sets cricket apart from most other sports. There don't seem to be too many people keeping track of the most goals scored by a right-back in football, or most aces served in first-round defeats in tennis grand slams.
But Trent Boult has, by his own admission, spent his ten and a half years as a Test cricketer slowly reeling in Muthiah Muralidaran's record, finally getting there amid the familiar flurry of jabs, squawks and feints that makes his batting a piece of performance art. The whole spectacle could only have been bettered by the sight of James Anderson, who has spent almost twice as long on the trail of Murali, vengefully reverse-sweeping his way past Boult's mark later in the match (and that could still happen in the final Test of the series).
Frankly, it was a more innocent age when players could be so good at one aspect of their job that they were allowed to be laughably bad at another (while still allowing for the development of an appropriate hierarchy). The Light Roller was just about starting to feel better about the world when we heard that Nicholas Pooran had taken a four-for.

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Cricketers, as we all know, love to take the positives. Your team might have spent five sessions in the field, and dropped as many catches, but hey, lads, the bum pats were on point. Now Ben Stokes, in his role as England's Test captain, has moved on to talking the positives, too. "The message from me to everyone is to look to be even more positive than we were last week. Let's just always try to be better," he said ahead of the aforementioned Trent Bridge Test. "I don't know how you make positive more positive but I think you know what I mean." Hmm, yeah. Not exactly Churchillian, eh? Although it seems Jonny Bairstow got the message.

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Well done to anyone who foresaw that Cricket South Africa's next move on the "journey of rebuilding trust" with the fans would be to bring in Jay-Z as a consultant. South African cricket may have 99 problems but a PR link-up with a millionaire rapper's entertainment agency ain't one. "We are not bringing them in as cricket development partners. We understand that we are experts in developing talent and in cricket," said CSA CEO Pholetsi Moseki, placing the definition of the word "expert" under all sorts of strain. But anyway, good luck to them. It's a hard-knock life if you're not a member of the Big Three. And while the self-proclaimed Eighth Wonder of the World might think lbw stands for Lil Bow Wow, cricket has always gone well with an empire state of mind. If they are not rolling out branded Hova covers next time it rains at the Bullring, then it'll be an opportunity missed.

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In the latest failing-to-read-the-room ICC pronouncement, chair Greg Barclay has had his say on how to grow Test cricket in the women's game. The answer? You don't. Never mind the climate of optimism around women's sport generally, from increased professionalism, prize money and prestige; or campaigns such as "This Girl Can", "Close the Gap" and "We Know Our Place". No, no, ladies. The ICC knows your place, actually. "I can't really see women's Test or long-form cricket evolving at any speed at all," Barclay said. "Men's Test cricket represents the history and legacy of the game - it is what makes the game unique." Keep sidelining 50% of the population and pretty soon that'll be another reason why cricket is unique.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick