Sunday, July 12, 2009

England vs Pakistan 1979 and the genius of Mike Brearley

Today's nerve-shredding finish, which saw thousands of Welshmen cheering every forward defensive by the last English pair, was a reminder that test matches produce more drama than the limited overs game can ever do.

Either limited overs matches are close, in which case they are exciting at the time but soon forgotten, or they are not, in which case they are rather dull and soon forgotten.

But there is a limited overs game I attended 30 years ago that I still remember, and that is because it did not feel like a limited overs game at all.

When I was a student at York in 1979 I went to Leeds to see the England vs Pakistan World Cup group game.

It was a typically seam-friendly Headingley wicket and England, batting first, made only 165 - the highest scorer was Graham Gooch with 33. I remember Sikander Bakht bowling very well for Pakistan.

What followed was a display of the tactical genius of the England captain Mike Brearley. He had four frontline seamers and he bowled them out to take wickets. Mike Hendrick's figures were particularly good: 12-6-15-4.

The game ended with Phil Edmonds and Geoff Boycott bowling at the Pakistani tale and England squeaked home, bowling them out for 151.

A lesser captain - indeed almost any other captain - would have fitted Edmonds' overs in somewhere in the middle of the innings, taken the pressure off the Pakistani batsmen and lost the game.

Brearley, incidentally, had a habit of giving Boycott a bowl in tests in those days. His theory was that opposing batsmen hated the thought of getting out to him so much (he bowled gentle medium pace with his cap turned back to front like Benny Hill's Fred Scuttle) that it made them cautious and slowed the scoring rate.


Hywel said...

Sadly of course he then went on to decide that a combination of Boycott/Gooch/Larkins was an adequate replacement as a fifth bowler for the injured Willis.

HE Elsom said...

Hmmm. I've always thought that Test cricket is to limited over cricket (including one-day formats really) as the Great Dionysia in ancient Athens would be to a one-hour television cop show. An apparent arc over several days with daily crises and possibly some fun or silly stuff at the end and a putatively cosmological totality, versus some synthetic excitement along predictable lines with the odd upset.

As a smallish child I used to watch Essex at home in the John Player (one-day fixed over) League. It was rather horribly like baseball -- the only interesting thing was to calculate the run rate, and the only possible excitement was when a particular batsman or bowler looked as if they might be performing atypically, which might affect how long it took for the result to be inevitable. But I often knew by mid afternoon from simple arithmetic what the result would be, at which point there was nothing to do except start whinging and demanding a choc ice.