Focus on goals you know you can achieve

The insistence on quality rather than mere versatility is a principle which should be applied to every position in a cricket team at every level. Of course, should a captain be gifted with a player endowed with both adaptability and star status, he is doubly blessed, writes Frank Tyson.

The Aussie crowds had a love-hate relationship with ‘The Boil!’ For Trevor Bailey, the former England all-rounder, had the irritating ability to get under an opponent’s skin — and like an itch that would not go away — annoy the hell out of Australian spectators with his pernickety ways.

The comments which Bailey provoked from the exasperated spectators on the Sydney Hill have become legendary quotes: “Boiley, I wish you were a statue and I was a pigeon!” And after a sequence of three flashes outside the off-stump: “Bowl ‘im down a pianer. P’raps he can play that!” For ‘The Boil’ was possessed of all those little quirks calculated to annoy the impatient watcher such as playing forward to a bouncer before looking around, the bat held head-high, but straight in front of his face, and grinning his impertinence down the pitch at the bowler!

Who better therefore to ask about the necessary attributes of a Test all-rounder than ‘The Boil’ — a player who batted, bowled and fielded at international level himself. Funnily enough, Trevor was not a supporter of the ersatz all-rounder — the bits and pieces player raised on a diet of One-Day Internationals, men who bat a bit, bowl a little and field a lot. He believed in quality and the philosophy that the real all-rounder could bat, bowl and field — all at international level.

He himself had batted all day with the Yorkshire batsman Willie Watson to deny Australia victory in the Lord’s Test of 1956. With the ball he captured 7/24 against the West Indies in one innings — 11 wickets in the match — in Kingston in 1953/54. He was the most reliable of slip fieldsmen and concluded a distinguished career for his country with nearly 3,000 runs and 132 wickets in only 61 Tests — figures second only to the mighty “Beefy” Botham and almost the equal of Kapil Dev’s 434 wickets and 5248 runs in 131 Tests.

The insistence on quality rather than mere versatility is a principle which should be applied to every position in a cricket team at every level. Of course, should a captain be gifted with a player endowed with both adaptability and star status, he is doubly blessed. Players such as Wilfred Rhodes, Vinoo Mankad, Lala Amarnath, Garry Sobers, Richard Hadlee and Ian Botham multiplied the playing strength of a side. But I believe that even a specialist player who excels in his chosen field is far more valuable to a side than a ‘Jack of All Trades’ who is master of none. One of the most admirable attributes of cricketers like W. G. Grace, Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Len Hutton, Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar was that they had at least one quality which set them way above their contemporaries: a feature which made them appear invincible. To bowlers Bradman must have seemed unbowlable.

I can vouch for Len Hutton, an opener who was never beaten. I have bowled to Len many times in the nets, beaten him with pace or late movement off the pitch. Then just as it seemed that his defences were penetrated and the way to his stumps was clear, he interposed his bat or closed its face at the very last moment, leaving me to defeat. This was the quality which made him the nonpareil opening bat. A station in the game at which he never ceased to work — forever seeking the perfection which comes from discipline.

In this context, I recall an anecdote about a young Yorkshire opening batsman, freshly promoted from the second to the senior eleven and sent in to partner an old pro. Taking strike first, he was ‘gifted’ a juicy long-hop in the first over he faced. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth he hit it to the fence and, for his pains, was rewarded with a lecture on caution from his senior partner. Another short delivery — the last ball of the over — received the same treatment and this time the youngster received a dressing down from his partner, together with the comment that Yorkshire batsmen never cut or pull before the second month of the season! The old Pro concluded his homily with the cutting comment: “What do you think we play this game for lad? Fun?” adding that if he wished to retain his place in the senior side, he had better subordinate his inclinations to the discipline of the team.

There is a moral in this parable. One which Indian batsmen would do well to heed. It is ‘minimise risk and play within the limitations of the role for which you are selected in the side.’ Thus if you are chosen as an opening bat, it is your job to see off the new ball and give your team a solid beginning to its innings. With double centurion Wasim Jaffer, Virender Sehwag and Dinesh Karthik having been chosen with these duties in mind, they should be required to supply the necessary discipline early in the innings.

They should not be shuffled up and down the order in tune with the changing fortunes of the batsmen within that order in various and often different games. Attitude and application change — not the talents of batsmen disconcertingly moved up and down the order to change their role within this remit. Thus with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid being the best equipped and the most experienced technicians in the current Indian team, it should be their major responsibility to occupy the numbers 3 and 4 batting slots and hold the batting together. They should not be shifted willy-nilly up and down the order.

Numbers 5 & 6 positions within the side are reserved for the stroke makers — in India’s case, Laxman and Yuvraj Singh.

There is also room for Ganguly, a double centurion against Pakistan at number 7, and wicketkeeper Dhoni can add a dash of colour in keeping with his ‘cool’ wardrobe at number 8.

With Zaheer and Irfan Pathan injured there is little room for imaginative selection in the batting cellar — but there is plenty of scope for the achievement of planned goal-setting: a skill in which the lower Australian order has shown itself to be particularly determinedly adept.

So it is back to the moral of India’s Test match batting fable: ‘Better the skills you do know. Concentrate on the goals you know you can achieve.’