Is Rory Burns going to have to give a presentation on industrial piping?

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Leslie Claret talks piping (via Amazon)

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.


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  1. I can’t envisage Rory Burns as a secret agent. James Vince, on the other hand, seems far more secret-agent-like. At least has a suitable moniker.

    “My name is Vince. James Vince.” Doesn’t work when your name is Rory Burns.

    And while I can immediately see how useful it is for a secret agent to have some other occupation as cover for going to Luxembourg and Iran…

    …I’m not sure such subterfuge is necessary for an Englishman visiting Sri Lanka and several islands in the West Indies. Aren’t they quintessential English tourist destinations anyway.

    Or am I missing the point?

    1. To be fair, the phrase “My name is Vince. James Vince.” doesn’t really work for anyone other than James Vince.

      Unless one is lying – which it is not unreasonable for a secret agent to do – in which case it works perfectly for everyone except James Vince.

      A prime example of someone who isn’t James Vince would be Rory Burns.

      1. How utterly foolish of me. I guess that demonstrates how far removed from the world of secret agents I am…

        …except that, if I were a secret agent…

        …I would say that, wouldn’t I?

  2. I just hope he has the same backing Keaton Jennings has had… at least allow him to come home and have a go next summer against international nibble. Even if he scores few runs in Sri Lanka.

    I was going to give an analogy then about watching South Africa vs Sri Lanka in July at Galle but could save it for a match report if you’d rather?

  3. Not the sort of job where you can easily wing it? You must be joking. This is piping we’re talking about here. You know, as in “All piping is to be constructed of a long hole surrounded by metal or plastic”, and “Ensure that the inside diameter does not exceed the outside diameter, else the hole will be on the outside.”

    Seriously, the people turning up to meetings about piping are the workplace equivalent of fielders at long stop – they’ve only been put there so they can’t make a balls of something that matters.

  4. So what you’re saying is that Keaton Jennings is actually a piping engineer trying to wing it whilst masquerading as English batsman? Suddenly it all makes sense.

    1. No, he’s a CIA operative who has to undertake espionage missions in Australia and India. Unfortunately, his inability to score a run in England last summer saw him miss the Australia part of the tour. His Agency contact was then bundled into the back of a van and made to play Ausse Rules Football until he confessed to spying on Kookaburra and finding out why they can’t make a ball that swings for more than 20 deliveries

  5. “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.”

    Thank goodness for that. You must have been getting worried.

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