Mullally, the Jack of all rabbits

Simon Lister wrote a thumpingly enjoyable piece on tailenders in the current (August 2007) issue of The Wisden Cricketer. Tail-end charlies are a particular fascination of mine, due in part to their absence nowadays but more poignantly because England produced them like battery-farmed chickens in the 1990s. Or rather, rabbits. Peter Such, Devon Malcolm, Ed Giddins, Phil Tufnell – and the champion of all; the Jack of all rabbits, Alan Mullally.

Cracking piece. Give it a read.

That was about as bad as it got, because when Duncan Fletcher arrived, the No. 11 became less of an object of derision. They learned the forward press and knew it had nothing to do with ironing their whites. The diehard No. 11 died out elsewhere too. The once hopeless Australian tailender Jason Gillespie did something that Mike Atherton never did; he scored a Test double-hundred.

Yet when Monty Panesar was first picked for the tour of India in 2005-06 it seemed a fine English tradition had been revived. He was, said one cricket reporter, “a tail-end rabbit in the Watership Down class”. Fletcher admitted: “I have slight reservations about his batting.” But that has changed. Panesar is a shoo-in for England, even for the one-day side. Rumours of his uselessness with the bat were exaggerated. So, if he still nearly failed to make the side because of his batting, what chance a Phil Tufnell playing for England today?

The era of the really awful No. 11 seems over and TWC decided it was a good time to look back at the 1980s and ’90s – a golden age of English tail-end incompetence. Among those who could boast that the size of their boots was twice their batting average, who was worst of all?

 

Gimme a tailender

It’s perhaps a bit disconcerting that I should admit this, but what the heck. I find the current India / Pakistan series completely dull and utterly arduous. I’m not actually watching it – more’s the pity – but, by all accounts, it sounds like a dreadfully painful match. I want Ashes cricket and I want it now. I want Steve Waugh to be grinding a hundred; Mike Atherton to scratch out one of his even uglier innings; I want Merv Hughes to spit at Peter Such, and laugh at his pathetic attempts to get bat on ball; in fact, I want a return to genuine tailend batsmen.

The loss of tailenders has been a disaster to cricket. They are now a rare beast, lurking among the local leagues around the world. For the lower-order batsman playing for their countries, they can now either hold up and end or score relatively freely. WHAT? I didn’t sign up to that, thanks very much. What about our tailend heroes? Tufnell, Such, Fraser; Hughes, May, McGrath; Walsh, Ambrose, Benjamin. And, of course, Danny Morrison, although his record-efforts of saving a Test (correct me if I’m wrong, which I usually am about anything historical) do edge him out of the class of a genuine muppet.

I want these back. I don’t want super-slick, multi-dimensional, do-it-all (and B&Q) players. I want batsmen that can bat brilliantly. When the batsmen roll their arms over, I want them to do a Bob Willis impression (his bowling action, not his suicidally-dull voice) and make a fool of themselves. Nevermind if they concede 12 or 30 from the over – give us some chuffing entertainment and stop taking it all so seriously. And I want brilliant bowlers; bowlers who couldn’t bat even if they had weekly training sessions with Boycott and Bradman. I want them to fall over, ideally on their stumps, or on their arse, with predictable regularity. Make them look foolish, and give the fans what they want!

Not a clue what I’m on about, but perhaps it explains my dislike of cricket’s new found “slick” and shiny and business-oriented nature. Graham Gooch, when he did his Bob Willis impression, had me in fits. It wasn’t that funny, in actual fact – it just demonstrated cricket’s ability to be bigger than just a game; for there to be interesting and funny parts to the days play. Tailenders were apart of that (“Way hay, it’s Such and Tufnell! Here. We. Go!”). Nowadays, the emphasis is on etching out as many runs as possible, an admirable statement of intent – and one I admire especially when England play – but let’s not forget cricket is a game, and everyone involved should treat it as such.