Something a bit strange is going on when I’m sat in me new motor – the one I’m a bit in love with – enjoying views over Gwbert and Aberteifi, in buttercup-swaying sunshine, radio on but distracted – tetchy even – around the off button. You’ll know we’re talking Uniquely Weird, friends, when I report to you that in the moment of this ravishing, olfactory/audio-visual bliss-temptation, #TMS is on. Yes! TMS; that lush verbiocrumble for our dreamy afternoons. Now, mind, it’s elevenish. Can’t be at home; got reception; parked up. Play stopped.
Stopped for rain. Which is erm, fine – de rigeur even, for Headingley – but most unusually, the inter-droplet verbio-thingies rilly got to me. Or rather the cyclic nature, the endless haul of drips did. The boy Vaughanie and the Kiwis in particular – although Aggers complicit – banged on about Trott and Cook for an absolute age. I know it was raining and there was time to fill. I know they have every right – we all do – to chip in with their opinions. But the sheer weight of comment around slowness (Trott) and negativity (Cook) was lumpenly unnecessary, surely? I agree that Trott was too slow and the skipper was too conservative but bloody hell, fellahs!! England were then four wickets away from a second reasonably surgical dismemberment of the Black Caps and the ONLY POSSIBLE ESCAPE for McCullum and co was via a Yorkie downpour or two. (And England did, crucially, go on to win, in a way we might justifiably call handsome.)
Perhaps Trottie’s dull-but-spiky interview, in which he came over all bullishly protective of the England Massive cranked up the criticism? Perhaps he might have been more self-aware, more honest even? But if he had been ‘honest’ in the appallingly anodyne manner of most leading sportsmen – i.e. if he’d had appeased his way through the conversation with the sole aim of saying bugger all controversial – would that not have been worse than his offensive defensiveness? Whatever; the volume of the (quite possibly) well-meaning picking over of Trott and Cook stuff was, in my view, the problem. It was overdone.
I didn’t in fact turn off. There was clearly the potential for either/both sporting and meteorological drama, so why would I?
Maybe one of the jobs of the pundits is to get under our skins, eh? Calm down and listen. For one thing, look on the bright side – there might be Blowers. Oozing and defiantly timeless; ludicrous. Like some Darkling Thrush-Pigeon for the very concept of delight. Retro to the point of Hardyesque and cake-obsessed, describing both the technical minutiae, the loopy shadow-boxing of possibilities and the occasional interloping bird. Blowers. Shame that I heard not a word from him, given how humid with chance the game seemed. Things were well set for a grasping of the moment moment. And really I suppose it was Swann who grabbed hold. Let’s talk about him.
Swann is a remarkable bloke. Not only is he right right up there with the great slow bowlers – a sentence so glib-sounding I insist you read it four times and translate into eight different (allegedly) Celtic languages for the addition of y’know, profundo-spin – he is a genuine wit, a soon-to-be, gargantuan multi-media mover-and-shaker and for all I know a member of the Black Panthers. But mainly he can bowl. Immediately after coming back from a significant op, in a Test Match, he can bowl.
He competes; he spins the ball refreshingly sharply, faking and tempting. At what is unfortunately often termed The Death, whilst not entirely bamboozling the Kiwis he plucked them out in a fashion that seemed undeniable. Even as the weather and the Trott and Cook stuff threatened to become issues, he turned that key, that seam, expertly but with some violence clockwise, dismissing the froth and the chatter alongside the commendably feisty opposition.
He took eleven wickets in the match. On a pitch, in atmospheric conditions that were designed and built for Anderson or Southee (actually.) Swann it was who dominated; by that combination of personality, threat, persistence, guts and – of course -notable spin. We should therefore not be underestimating how significant an effort it is to have that much effect on a Test Match so soon after an enforced lay-off – whatever may be said about the level of opposition or the playing conditions. Swann is special.
So whilst I too often indulge in more or less constructive sounding-off on this or that sporting matter, I’m thinking I guess that we might merely note in passing that Cook had too few catchers in too often and that at one stage Trott misjudged the necessary scoring rate. But neither of them are criminal underachievers, are they? Brief note taken and move on, you reckon?
Reflection of a mature and critical nature is undoubtedly good and necessary; it’s part of the challenge to improve, the fabric of aspiration. However, is it not the case that this, the Second Test was (also) won… and that it was won simply and undeniably through a telling contribution of remarkably positive energy from one player in particular? That off-spinner bloke; our gem. Let’s celebrate that.