Something rock 'n' roll about English cricket's dynamic duo
TIPPING POINT:Having batted in all of two cricket matches, I can reveal that a hurling grip doesn’t do the job. And neither does a hurling attitude. That’s the one where a hearty flower of Gaeldom saunters to the crease confident that, despite his novice status, some wannabe West Brit called Jonathan lobbing a glorified sliotar at him will be a piece of pee compared to minding the square during a Minor B riot in Minane Bridge.
Your hero was just that tiresomely predictable on both outings, determined to show a bunch of Dublin Yaws real hand-eye co-ordination, and hoicking agriculturally at the ball with a forward foot shuffle that resulted in a collision with the bowler half-way down the wicket.
Guess what: neither innings was lengthy. The Jonathans knew what they were doing. They insisted on making the ball go crooked: perfidious Anglos. And there wasn’t even the option of turning round and clocking the umpire: he was at the other end, with a sweater thrown jauntily over his shoulder.
The trudge back to the shed – sorry, pavilion – was ignominious and not helped by everyone being so damned nice, pleasant, and well, English about it all. It was like taking a bath in Hugh Grant. My inner culchie rebelled and fled for the mountains, dismissing the game as rubbish, while realising the real problem was I was rubbish at it.
Not that that caused any sleeplessness: declaring even a mild curiosity interest in cricket can still be tricky in this country. Yes, the Irish team got a lot of headlines in last year’s World Cup, and everyone went “yay” when they beat England. But for the vast majority the game remains a mystery – one they are determined to leave mysterious.
It’s the one garrison game that hasn’t really caught on here, its very Englishness – all that village green and thunk of the willow stuff – making it too loaded for a country still stridently establishing an identity on the basis of what it isn’t.
But there’s no getting away from how just a little appreciation of cricket’s intricacies can burrow into the mind like a treacherous MacMurrough-like tick. And as with all sport, watching the very best brings its own appeal.
Even Ireland’s green-greenies might twig what is happening within the England team right now if they paid attention. An already good side is verging towards greatness thanks in large part to a pair of temperamentally diverse talents that are merging well enough to make the rest of the cricket world quake. And in the process provide a classic personality contrast.
Kevin Pietersen has a profile that has managed to percolate into even the most defiantly anti-cricket circles. Tattooed and toned, with the almost obligatory ear-ring and pop-star wife, he is what passes for sporting rock ’n’roll these days.
He is brilliantly gifted with a bat and his cocksure attitude is a reflection of that bastion of suave charm that is the South Africa in which he grew up, so much so that his Australian opponents have reportedly christened him “FIG-JAM,” short for “F***, I’m Good, Just Ask Me.”
That England had to import such talent is no surprise. There were times in the past when they would hardly have had a team without refugees from the Commonwealth. The shock now is that they have another genuinely top-notch batsman who is as English as, well, cricket.
And the beauty is that Alastair Cook is the antithesis of Pietersen. If KP is in your face, then his captain is determinedly understated – giving every impression he would pierce his eye before his ear.
Cook has become England’s most successful scorer of Test hundreds. Moreover, he will not be 28 until Christmas Day and every batting record in the book – even the miraculous exploits of fading Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar – could be under threat.
Yet mention his name to most people in Ireland and you might get a tentative Letter from America? in response.
And unlike Pietersen, that’s just the way Cook seems to like it.
While some who share their birthday with Christ tend to adopt a rather omniscient approach to life, there seems to be something determinedly down to earth about Cook. He even married his childhood sweetheart last year, where funnily enough, Pietersen didn’t turn up to the wedding.
It’s fascinating to speculate on the dynamic between the two men. There’s a temptation to go all Beatles and Stones about it, or Ronaldo and Messi, even Boycott and Botham; except English cricket’s most famous bore and boor are united in praise of both men.
There certainly doesn’t appear to be an edge, at least not yet. Instead the evidence in India suggests one is spurring the other on, which is bad news for the home side as the visitors target a rare series win on the subcontinent.
Cook and Pietersen have different ways of doing the job. And even if the temptation is to think it is the steady Cook you would pick if your house depended on a century, there’s no arguing with the mental toughness required to do the job in the first place.
Mastering a 3½-ounce piece of hard cork hurled at you at almost 100mph from just 20 yards away by a bowler determined to take your head off requires nerve and skill.
Having masters at both ends of the wicket right now is England’s rare good fortune. And maybe not just England’s.