Tom Hartley: first look in Test cricket

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We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from players’ debuts – but we report on them anyway.

If there was a key moment for Tom Hartley on his debut, it was when Ben Stokes didn’t whip him out of the attack to ‘protect’ him after an over or two in the first innings. Further key moments came when Stokes still didn’t take him off after the next over, or the one after that, or the one after that.

Modern cricket seems to explain everything in terms of Bazball, “match-ups” or T20, but the truth is India have been absolutely mullering visiting spinners on first sight for as long as anyone can remember.

If there’s a modern twist, it’s that the psychological dismemberment used to begin in the warm-up games. This time around, England didn’t play any of those, so the mauling had to commence in the first Test.

Opening the bowling in India’s first innings, Hartley’s first ball in Test cricket sailed over the ropes for six. A ball or two later, another one went.

After three overs, he’d conceded 34. That was a fair whack given England had only made 246.

Had Stokes seen enough?

In 2013, Alastair Cook whipped Simon Kerrigan out of the attack after two overs and 28 runs. Kerrigan was visibly nervous and the message from his captain was that maybe he was right to feel that way; maybe he wasn’t up to the job. On the basis of two overs, Cook didn’t trust his spinner.

Stokes is a different sort of captain. In fact let’s state it plainly: Stokes is a far, far, far better captain.

Stokes didn’t want Hartley to feel like he was someone who needed protecting, so he kept him on for a nine-over spell, during which he conceded 63 runs. If Hartley inferred a message from that, it was something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about that last six and don’t worry if there’s another one next ball. A couple of bad overs isn’t going to shift my opinion of you, even if that’s all your Test career currently consists of. I think you’re good enough to open the bowling in this match and there’ll be plenty more for you to do after that.”

Also in Hartley’s favour is the fact that, thanks to the shortest format, getting carted for a bunch of sixes is pretty much part of a bowler’s job nowadays. It’s a thing that happens. It’ll happen again. It doesn’t have to mean anything.

Unlike some of their predecessors, most modern spinners know their way back from the cleaners, having been taken there so many times before. Perhaps that also influenced Stokes’ show of faith.

That faith was important. Confident players may or may not have a good day, but uncertain ones most definitely won’t. If there’s a central pillar to the England Test team philosophy right now, it’s that confidence is a prerequisite for performance.

“Stokesy and Baz, they really got around me,” reflected Hartley about that first innings from which he ultimately emerged with 2-130 off 25 overs. “I lost no confidence and was able to come out and do my best out here.”

Six first ball, half as many wickets as Joe Root and twice as expensive – and yet Tom Hartley lost no confidence. Zero. Not a dent.

Kudos to him for that. Kudos to Ben Stokes, Brendon Mccullum and the rest of the team too, because 7-62 in the second innings to win a Test match wasn’t a bad follow-up.


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  1. > Unlike some of their predecessors, most modern spinners know their way back from the cleaners…
    What a great turn of phrase. 😀

  2. Given that there seems to be a chance England go with an all-spin attack for the 2nd Test, is there a seam-bowling corollary to ‘always pick a spinner’?

    1. Philosophically, yes, we do feel that the nature of a Test match is that it should reward breadth of skills and punish narrower focus.

      In practice, we’re not sure the kinds of pitches where teams consider all-spin attacks are as likely to throw up those batting partnership blockades where the bowling side finds itself desperate for a different kind of bowler.

      1. I have no problems with an all-spin attack, I mean, nobody blinks an eye at an all-pace attack. However, an all-spin attack is, well, ummm, boring. Just like an all-pace one. India would do well to make a couple of pitches fast bowler friendly. At some point, someone has to remind those in command of Indian cricket that in Jasprit Bumrah they have one of the best fast bowlers in the world and it would do him no good to spend all day fielding.

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