The Best of Times

It may have been a little too obvious to select certain England players for particular praise when the 2010-11 Ashes series ended.

But I did so anyway.

For virtually anyone associated with the England cricket team, and especially the young men talented and fortunate enough to play for it, the 43 days between 25th November 2010 and 7th January 2011 will have been among the best times they will ever know on a cricket field.

For some among them those times have been better – or more memorable for different reasons – even than that.

To many, Alastair Cook seemed destined by virtue of his hesitancy and looseness to be Mitchell Johnson’s fall guy.  He leaves Australian shores an unlikely hero – still young, undemonstrative, slightly coy – but with a counter-intuitive stamina and toughness which nailed the Australian coffin shut.  He may never quite pass this way again, but simply to watch the shape of his body as he defended the ball in Sydney was to see a man at ease, doing what he was put on earth to do.

Ian Bell is a man who, after years of wondering, knows his limitations.  He knows that when it comes to batting he has no limitations.  With Cook the lingering feeling is that he has surpassed himself in recent weeks, but with Bell there is the certain knowledge that there is much more to come.

Watching Bell these days can be an almost epiphanic experience.  This was never true of Paul Collingwood, but few England players have ever made as much of their talent, responded as well to adversity or fielded with as much versatlity and athleticism.  His vital role in the development of what could be England’s side of sides should never be forgotten.

In a similar way to Ian Bell, James Anderson is now a mature man of high skill who knows his own game and his own mind.  And, as with Bell, this should be no more than the beginning.

In 1956, John Arlott, looking back to 1947, wrote of a ‘fair-haired, athletic-looking young man with a sweeping run-up and a high, easy, natural delivery-swing.  It was as exciting a spell of bowling as I have ever watched and in the poverty of our post-war game, the man responsible for it was a heady promise of resurgent greatness in English cricket’. The man Arlott was writing about was Chris Tremlett’s grandfather Maurice, and, at the start of the second decade of the 21st century, his late-flowering grandson exemplifies the future promise of another England side in a similar way.

These have been the best of times.  But, for Strauss’s England, there will be many more.

Different Shades of Green, 8th January 2011

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