Our favourite TV series that we’ve no idea whether you’d like and that you won’t see anyway because it’s on Amazon Prime is Patriot.
It’s about a somewhat blank-faced intelligence officer, John Tavner, who has to become a mid-level employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm because they’re the only US firm that operates in both Luxembourg and Iran and he needs to be able to go to both Luxembourg and Iran.
Something like that anyway. It doesn’t really matter in this context. What matters is the job he has to do.
Tavner is a spy and he has been well-trained to do normal spy-type things. Unfortunately for him, his skills don’t exactly translate into holding down a job in an industrial piping firm.
His boss, Leslie Claret, wrote a book called The Structural Dynamics of Flow, which is basically The Piping Bible. When Claret coaches his staff ahead of important meetings with clients, he suggests that they advertise the fact that the firm’s, “bracketed caps and splay-flexed brace columns vent dampers to dampening hatch depths of one half-metre from the damper crown to the spurv plinth.”
In short, it’s not the kind of job where you can easily wing it.
We’ve been thinking about John Tavner quite a bit recently because of England’s upcoming tour of Sri Lanka. It’s this idea of someone fantastically skilled trying to do their job in an environment where those skills are all but irrelevant. You hope that the person comes up with answers to the problems they face, but you aren’t entirely sure what those answers will be.
The County Championship has always featured cloudy skies and green pitches, but in recent years the typical conditions faced by the nation’s first-class players have skewed even further towards that particular end of the spectrum.
A lot of games are played in April and May and September when the sun is lower, the weather cooler and the pitches damper. You could probably track this by charting how frequently the word ‘nibble’ has appeared in match reports.
There’s no need to do that though. All we need to do is dig out a quote.
When Ollie Pope was called into England’s squad this summer, this is what he said about the prospect of facing India’s spinners.
“I’ve faced a bit of [Liam] Dawson but other than that everyone has just been bowling seam on these green wickets.”
It was the hottest, driest summer many of us can remember, but not when they were playing the County Championship. When they were playing the County Championship everyone was just bowling seam on green wickets.
You’d have to say that this sort of competition probably doesn’t provide the absolute best preparation for playing in Sri Lanka. Batting in Sri Lanka is a different sort of job.
We’ve been thinking in particular about how Rory Burns will fare because Rory Burns is the one batsman who’s really been flying this year. Is Burns a really good batsman in the broadest sense or is he just the nation’s finest nibble-counterer? We don’t know.
You might point out that even though he’s an opener, Burns has of course faced spin bowling too over the course of the season. We’d counter than by saying that ‘a bit of Liam Dawson’ isn’t quite the same as Rangana Herath in Galle.
Reflecting on his call-up, Burns said: “I’ve never been to Sri Lanka before, so that’ll be something new and I’m looking forward to getting going.”
This whole situation is interesting to us because we don’t really know how things are going to go. Maybe Burns is really good at unarmed combat and not talking when he’s tortured, but less good at walking potential clients through the nitty-gritty of systemised non-filter diffusion.
Alternatively, maybe his success is built on something more fundamental; an innate ability to somehow find a way. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who could both retrieve 11 million euros from a Brazilian airport worker and also retain his place on the company travel team despite a whole series of workplace fiascos.
We’re very much looking forward to seeing this one play out.