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Old May 7, 2011, 10:15 AM
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Default Why English cricket needs the six appeal of an Indiana Jones

I wasn't sure whether to post this under 'Just Cricket' or 'International Cricket' but this is pretty amusing. (And bears a slight resemblance to our own search for a good lower-order pinch hitter)

Why English cricket needs the six appeal of an Indiana Jones
The most interesting position in England's batting order is up for grabs and it must be filled by a larger than life player in step with its riotous possibilities

Barney Ronay
The Guardian,
Saturday 7 May 2011



Ian Botham, shown here during the 1986 Ashes tour, was in many ways the ideal No6, a player who must hold his bat with coiled purpose. Photograph: Getty Images


"This week the England cricket hierarchy solved in a single stroke what looked to be its most ticklish immediate problems. Gorgeous, pouting, poster-ready Alastair Cook, who previously couldn't get in the squad, will be England's 50-over captain. And pouting, gorgeous, sponsor-catnip Stuart Broad, who refused the chance to play Twenty20 in the IPL because it wasn't a career priority, is now England's Twenty20 captain.

Probably this will all work out just fine. Andy Flower has a good record with these kind of hard-nosed judgments, as should a man who appears literally to have a hard nose, not to mention a head chiselled out of reclaimed Victorian oak. There is another problem, though, that has yet to be solved, and which seems to me more fundamental. The ongoing audition for the vacant slot in England's batting order – billed as the Battle To Fill The Number Six Slot – reached a thick-sweatered fever pitch this week as various hopefuls pressed their suit in county cricket. It is exciting to see the No6 spot attracting such giddy attention, albeit for me there is a sense that this slightly disrespects the No6 spot, which frankly deserves a little better than being bandied about as a clearing house for the nearlies, a side‑saddle, L-plate kind of role.

In fact, No6 is the most interesting spot in any England batting order, particularly at home where the game can nibble and fret and hoop forwards at an alarming rate and No6 is suddenly the keystone for all possibilities. Being a No6 is the direct ideological opposite of being an opener, a position where a mechanical type of player will flourish, just as Cook has, trundling forward irresistibly like a Soviet-era combine harvester ploughing its lone furrow from horizon to horizon. Openers are essentially perfectionists, militant virgins who will throw their hands up and wander off the set at the first crimp in their pristine morning. Behind them three, four and five are often described as "the engine room", but engine rooms are staffed by hoary-handed grease monkeys, whereas the middle order are the prom kings and queens of batsmanship, a cabal of head prefects and silver-spoon merchants

It is only the No6, slouching unshaven at the mid-innings tipping point, who carries a sense of libidinous top-order romance. For the No6 decisions must be made even as the world collapses around you. It is a jumping-off point, an improv role, a mix‑another-cocktail‑in‑the-kitchen-at‑2am kind of job. It is also the most heroic of all positions. If Batman played cricket, or Indiana Jones, or the Beat poets of the 1950s, they would all bat at No6 (possibly also in a white helmet and carrying a bat with unusual stickers).

For England the current approach appears to be to identify Some Dude Who's Good At Batting – a Warhol collage of Bopara-Taylor-Morgan-Stokes-Hildreth – and then simply slot him in at six. This is probably very sensible, but it is also depressingly pragmatic. From a romantic's point of view you want the right kind of chops for No6. It has a weird kind of power. It can intimidate as it did in the 1990s when various priestly top-order types – not to mention flavour‑of-the-month bumcrack-and-highlights county favourites – found themselves out of step with its riotous possibilities. No6 can inspire too, as it did on occasion for Graeme Hick, or late‑era Alec Stewart, in that period where he batted with the time‑worn recklessness of a silk‑shirted divorcee in a provincial disco hip‑thrusting through the YMCA. Even Ian Bell has seemed transformed by its seesaw pressures, all beefy crunching forearms and that lazy pull-shot reminiscent of a man heaving his derelict ironing board on to the municipal tip.

Best of all, though, is the specialist No6 batsman, who has aspirations for nothing more and is totally embroiled in the No6 lifestyle. It is impossible not to think of Ian Botham, who stayed concreted in at No6 even as his career congealed. Botham had a lot of what I would ideally want from my No6 batsman. I want him not to wear too much padding, to look like a man who has rushed out to bat from the track, or a night spent at the Grand Hotel in Cannes: helmetless is the dream, but provocatively bared forearms will do. A No6 should more often than not casually hit his first ball for four. He must not be too mannered – not too much bat-twiddling – but instead carry a slouching air of menace. A No6 must hold his bat with coiled purpose, like a power tool or a murder weapon.

Of the current thrusters, Ravi Bopara has an appealingly overblown swagger. Eoin Morgan has the right air of lip-curling self-possession. And Kevin Pietersen could be a great six if he could just give up pretending to be head boy and finally embrace his all-conquering, skunk-haired inner ----head.

There is plenty of natural six‑iness out there – but it is still necessary to respect the six. Choose your six and let him be simply a six: a reserve of un-homogenised charisma teetering at the not-quite midpoint."


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Old May 10, 2011, 01:40 PM
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