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.
England have named their Test squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. Rory Burns is in, Olly Stone is in, and – a mere 10 years after we tipped him – so too is Joe “No Pants” Denly.
The Burns selection isn’t really worth commenting on, so let’s concentrate on the other two.
Ashley Giles went full Partridge when talking up Olly Stone this week. He said the fast bowler was injury-prone in much the same way that a Ferrari apparently is.
“With many bowlers – your BMWs or your Audis – you just get in and go but if you have someone who bowls at pace and has had his history of injury you have to treat them very carefully.”
The fragile fast bowler is an important role to fill in any team. Ideally, his fragility is such that he misses more games than he plays, so that when you’re losing you can say: “If only our 488 GTB hadn’t done his knee/fractured his scapula/ruptured his pancreas/lost both of his pelvises – we’d have won this by tea on the second day.”
Olly Stone appears to be very effective, so there are two ways England are likely to use him.
(1) They will use him as a drinks waiter while picking both James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the first XI on the grounds that if one of the two senior bowlers proves ineffective in Sri Lankan conditions, the other one will almost certainly be useless too.
(2) They will only ever pick him on the least helpful pitches and reward him for this by eventually forgetting all about him because he has a high bowling average. England’s attitude to fast bowlers and leg-spinners is that you only resort to them when absolutely necessary and at all other times it’s best to keep things 100% fast-medium.
We’ve no real idea what this is all about. Denly’s batted in the top order in 2018 and not been completely humiliated. We suppose that’s enough at the minute.
Surrey have won the County Championship. You win 10 of 12 matches and draw the other two and these things happen.
We were checking the averages in the first division of the County Championship earlier today and two things struck us. Firstly, very few people have averaged over 40 and secondly, Surrey have had the three stand-out cricketers this season.
The three are:
While the wicket table is somewhat unexpectedly topped by two Lancashire players (Graham Onions and Tom Bailey), Morkel isn’t far behind despite only playing two-thirds as many games. He has so far taken 50 wickets at 13.96 and should quite honestly be playing a different standard of cricket or attempting some other similarly challenging activity, like limbo.
Burns is way off on his own as top run-scorer with 1,241 at an average of 68.94. This is a weight of runs to defy Ed Smith’s funkiest selectorial urges, so you can’t imagine he’ll be playing quite so many matches for Surrey next year.
Ollie Pope is the only batsman who has made a significant number of runs at a higher average. He has made 802 runs at 72.90.
There are currently 16 players averaging more than 40 with the bat in the first division. Only seven of them have played more than eight games. Batting in England is really hard.