Last week’s announcement of the England Test squad brought with it any number of discussion points. There was the debate over the wicketkeeper position, with Matt Prior given the gig again based on the fact that he used to be good and little else; there was the distinct lack of debate about the spinner position, with England terrifyingly doing exactly what we said a while back; there was a clear line drawn under Michael Carberry and there were some interesting selections in the seam bowling department.
We’ve been bigging up Liam Plunkett for a Test recall for as long as we can remember (i.e. for the last few weeks). When we saw that he wasn’t getting enough press to force his way into international reckoning, we added him to our Unlikely Lads series, knowing full well that this would spur him on to even greater heights. And it worked a treat: he added another yard of pace, scored a bunch of runs with the bat and generally strutted around the county scene like some sort of cricketing Adonis.
But for every success there must be a failure, for every Empire Strikes Back a Phantom Menace. For every Plunkett and Jordan chasing the dream at the top level, there must be a fall guy. And in this case it’s one Timothy Thomas Bresnan, who quietly slipped away from the squad, despite being there or thereabouts every time he’s been fit for the past four years. And in many ways this makes us feel sad.
There’s lots to like about Tim Bresnan: he looks like he works in B&Q and comes across as a genuinely nice guy, fond of what youngsters probably call ‘the bantz’ without reaching Graeme Swann-esque levels of forced hilarity. Plus he (Bresnan) is one of those players who seems to have worked hard for everything he’s achieved, making the most of his (relatively) limited skillset to fashion himself into an integral part of an England side that was, lest we forget, actually quite good for a while. Along with Chris Tremlett, Bresnan was England’s surprise weapon for the 2010/11 Ashes, fitting so perfectly into the bowling dry strategy that him replacing Steve Finn for Melbourne and Sydney actually turned out to be a really good idea.
As well as his under-rated bowling, Bresnan also occasionally chipped in with a few useful runs – without his 53* it seems unlikely that England would have passed the crucial psychological barrier of 700 against India at Edgbaston in 2011 – and generally kept the side ticking along. To pinch Eric Cantona’s turn of phrase, Bresnan was the side’s water-carrier, doing the heavy lifting so that more talented players could flourish around him.
Unfortunately for Bresnan, when those other talented players stop flourishing, the role of water-carrier becomes distinctly vulnerable. Can a poor side really afford to carry a bowler who doesn’t really take that many wickets, or a lower order batsman who doesn’t actually score that many runs? To add to that, there’s no doubt that he was never quite the same after his elbow surgery in late 2011. The zip was gone, as evidenced by the numbers: 41 wickets at 24 in ten matches before then, 31 at 45 in 13 matches since. As with Chris Tremlett two years later, England just chose to largely ignore this decline and hope for the best.
With a new set of coaches come new ideas, hence a squad containing Sam Robson, Moeen Ali and the aforementioned Plunkett. Along with this will come a move to four seamers and a couple of part-time spin options. With so many bowlers to share the load around, there’s less of a need for a workhorse and more of an emphasis on impact players. Or ‘gun players’ as Nick Knight would probably call them, had we not put knitting needles into our ears last time he started talking.
Assuming he doesn’t reappear in the Test squad – which really would be the ultimate ‘fuck you’ from the ECB to Steve Finn – Bresnan is just the latest player from England’s glorious Ashes winning side of 2011 to depart the international game. At the age of 29, he’ll presumably give his all for Yorkshire for the next few years, no doubt running into the wind, picking up wickets and chipping in with the bat. Every time his name gets mentioned – hopefully in a sentence also containing the words ‘punched Ryan Sidebottom in the face’ – we’ll smile and give thanks for his efforts. And then we’ll think of this, our favourite picture in the history of the world: