Readers of a delicate constitution should turn the page now. What I am about to write concerns a nasty little secret society where unhappy souls protect themselves from the real world by introspection and self-serving justification. I am talking about the misguided group of humans who call themselves professional batsmen in our county game.
Every now and then, six or seven of them are forced from their county dressing rooms and face public scrutiny for the five days of a Test match. They clearly do not relish the prospect. They feign maximum concentration which fools nobody but themselves. They are unable to convey even a hint of confidence, let alone a touch of bravado. Within minutes they are shown to be inadequate in so many ways that their imminent departure is a foregone conclusion.
Nevertheless, some of them become household names and live reasonably well on the basis that they are simply the best of a bad bunch. If you play a bat-and-ball game for a living there must be occasions when conditions are relatively easy and runs are scored despite these inadequancies.
Some spectators and critics are beguiled by these interludes, those moments of remission, into thinking that the worst has passed and a new dawn may be near. Those who can see clearly know that the dark ages are with us for the foreseeable future.
At Lord’s, for the second Test, we were treated to three lapses of judgement within an hour and the batsmen, Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash, were picked to play again for their country within a fortnight. What that says about our national pride, or lack of it, is all too obvious.
The image of all three get-out shots is etched sharply in my brain for one particular reason. Each player somehow managed to get his back knee actually touching the ground at the moment of his self-destruction. Therefore, the three heads had obviously departed from their original elevation by feet rather than inches and that is a recipe for disaster.
No photograph or drawing in any coaching manual requires the back knee to touch the ground. It was an occasional characteristic of exuberant West Indian batsmen going for a square drive to an over pitched ball, but it was viewed with scepticism as to its place in major cricket.
The worst stroke of the three was definitely Butcher’s, not only because of the timing in the last over before an interval. It was neither a lofted drive nor a front foot pull. The bat was neither vertical nor horizontal against every known precept of the game. And he has since been rewarded with the England captaincy!
Next worst was the Stewart smear to leg to a leg-side ball with the front leg splayed outside the line, leaving a clear path to the stumps. If a No 10 played the shot, he would be asked to reconsider his position. When England’s opening bat does it, he is simply asked to front up with a good chance he will do it again.
The Ramprakash off-side slash was the least culpable, but only in the light of the other two.
My reading is that all these players became frustrated because their normal methods are not providing runs easily enough. So they are forced into desperate measures. Stewart has major foot movements before the ball is bowled. Butcher makes the same foot movement to every ball; and Ramprakash ducks his head at the moment the ball is released.
I long for the day when selectors plump for some little known name who announces what he is made of when he walks to the crease. In my dreams he will look as if he feels at home in front of the TV cameras. His stance will be relaxed with the back of the left hand facing mid-off rather than gully. As a result the bat will pick up straight with the blade facing cover rather than the ground.
He would move his feet sharply early in his innings and maintain a sideways position throughout the stroke with his back foot parallel to the batting crease. Thus his defensive play would flow naturally into run-scoring strokes with no need for sudden wild swipes to relieve the tension. Above all, his head will remain stock still until the ball is bowled.
Until all our batsmen take a clear look at themselves in the light of these time-honoured prinicples of a noble art, there is no hope.