England’s recent announcement of their Test squad to tour India later in the year was, unsurprisingly, more about the players that weren’t included than those that were. While all the grownup journalists were writing about Kevin Pietersen’s absence we were busy discussing something very different: the presence of hyper-obese literal all-rounder Samit Patel. It turns out that his inclusion in the side for the Sri Lankan tour wasn’t a cruel joke at our expense, but was instead part of some sort of masterplan. Presumably this plan involves getting a right tonking at the hands of India throughout November and December.
While we were making a serious of fairly obvious jokes at Samit’s expense (Will the plane even get off the ground? Can you get Bounty bars in India? Has anyone ever withdrawn from a Test squad because of diabetes?) someone made a very pertinent point: this isn’t the first time that a (very) slow left arm fat bloke has somehow found his way into the England Test side. We are of course talking about
Back in 2005, despite winning the Ashes, all was not well with the England side. The successes of the previous few years had been built around a battery of fast bowlers reverse swinging the ball from one end, while Ashley Giles tied up the other. As strategies go, it wasn’t a bad one but it wasn’t exactly suited to the subcontinent. With tours of Pakistan and India coming up, England, presumably inspired by the success of Popstars: The Rivals, ran a spin audition camp in which a bunch of county trundlers had the chance to get one to move slightly off the straight and earn themselves a place in the winter squad.
Shaun Udal (himself a future Unlikely Lad) was the big winner, earning a place in England’s starting XI for all three Tests in Pakistan, where he picked up three wickets at a Salisbury-esque average of 92.33. With Giles also struggling for form (taking three wickets at 82.33), fitness (a long term hip problem) and cash (due to an administrative error, he’d accidentally ordered a million King Of Spain mugs), a whole new spin attack was require by the time the team reached Nagpur.
While hot prospect Monty Panesar could replace Udal, Giles’s absence left a large hole in the side, luckily one large enough to just about squeeze Blackwell into. As a destructive lower-order batsman he could slot in at number eight, just below future Papua New Guinea star Geraint Jones, without massively disturbing the balance of the side. Plus his left arm filth would surely strike fear into the hearts of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. Having been around the ODI side for a while, it was a natural choice.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t quite work out. Batting first England made 393, thanks to 134* from Paul Collingwood and 60 from debutant opener Alastair Cook. In reply India could only make 323, mainly due to figures of 6/57 from Matthew Hoggard. And it was immediately clear that Andrew Flintoff, standing in as captain for the injured Michael Vaughan, wasn’t overly keen on Blackwell’s bowling, presumably concerned about the challenge to his role as the jolly fat one in the side. While Panesar bowled 42 overs, taking 2/73 and conceding less than two runs an over, Blackwell bowled just seven, finishing with 0/28.
After Cook made a century in the second innings, England declared at the start of the fifth day, setting India 368 to win. The home side crawled to 131 for 1 at tea, before the wicket of Dravid, bowled by the impressive Panesar, encouraged them to have a late dash. With MS Dhoni and some bloke called Tendulkar looking to get on with it, Blackwell, with quiet figures of 0/29 from 11 overs, was brought on. Six balls and 16 runs later he was back out of the attack and his Test career was over.
Even though that first Test was drawn, Blackwell suffered the ultimate indignity of being replaced by Liam Plunkett for the second. England lost by nine wickets before going back to Shaun Udal for the final Test, a game in which they bowled the home side out for 100 to secure a famous victory.
Blackwell remained part of the ODI side for the series that followed, taking five wickets in six matches as England were once again humbled, losing 5-1, but after that he drifted away from contention as England adopted a new policy of picking actual decent spinners in Panesar and Swann and a barely able to walk Ashley Giles. Blackwell returned to the county game, moving on from Somerset after disagreeing with Justin Langer about his fitness levels, or lack thereof. At Durham he enjoyed consecutive County Championship titles in his first two seasons before gradually falling out of favour. Oddly enough, he found himself securing another title this year, on loan at Warwickshire.
Presumably Blackwell doesn’t like to brag about his Test career; after all, it consisted of just 19 wicketless overs and four runs before playing on to Irfan Pathan. Even Samit Patel has slightly more to show than that (40 runs at 13.33 and three wickets at 40.66 so far). And yet it was still enough to inspire some independent film-makers to make a biopic that we’ve never actually seen, but we can imagine must be genuinely terrifying on the 20m high screen of your local IMAX.