Pattinson may be better than his debut suggests - Sunil Gavaskar Column

2008 Jul 25 by

Pattinson is just the latest of the lot and cricket being the great leveler that it is, he may well turn out to be better than his debut Test suggests.

England's defeat by South Africa in the second Test match at Leeds has certainly created a storm in the English camp. It started with the England Captain, Michael Vaughan claiming that there was confusion about the selection process, and the team was not the unit that is necessary at the international level. The inclusion of Darren Pattinson, who was born in England but raised in Australia and had played the greater part of his career down under, was the one that started the controversy. It sure was a surprise selection since local boy and proven customer, Matthew Hoggard, was not considered, nor the inconsistent Steve Harmison or Simon Jones, who is making a comeback to the game after a long layoff with a serious knee injury.

That Vaughan had not seen Pattinson in action, though he claimed that he may have played against him in a Twenty20 domestic game did not help matters, for if the captain hasn't seen you nor does he know your strengths and weaknesses, how is he going to use you properly? The selectors had of course seen him and thought that Peter Moores and the captain wanted a bowler who could pitch the ball up and get it to swing in the conditions that Leeds presents. Pattinson did not bowl badly, but in trying to pitch it up he got driven by Graeme Smith in particular for boundaries, which made one commentator change his tune very fast. In Pattinson's first over when he had got the ball to move and bounce from a length and Smith fenced at it awkwardly, the commentator was 'ohhing' and 'ahhing' about the pace and bounce and seemed pretty excited about the lad. Sadly it did not last long and as is regular in English cricket, the diversion from the bad batting started with poor Pattinson being made the scapegoat by the end of the Test match.

Vaughan's comments about confused selection made the Managing Director of English Cricket summon both, the Chairman of Selectors as well as the coach and skipper for a meeting, to thrash out issues which now have been sorted out. While Vaughan will not make public comments about selection, Miller the Chief Selector, will now be wary of bringing in any newcomer in the English side. Vaughan's comments once again show that in most teams after some time, a club mentality takes place where apart from the group any new members are frowned upon. The new member, if he does not show his skills immediately, will fall by the wayside with not much help forthcoming from his team-mates, as they feel he is an intruder in the first place. Pattinson said pretty much that when he confessed that when he walked into the England dressing room he did not know anybody and though he did not add that he was ignored, it would pretty much have been the case, with the team feeling that Hoggard or Harmison should have been there as they were already proven members of the team.

Pattinson's surprise selection does give an insight into how English cricket works, for it is almost a repetition of the scenarios in the late 1970s and 80s. In those days, West Indies dominated world cricket and there were more than one West Indian origin player in just about every County team. The thought process then seemed to be that everything West Indian was the best. So if there was a player of West Indian origin available for England, then he had a very good chance of playing for England. England tried Roland Butcher, Neil Williams, Ricardo Ellcock and Wilfred Slack to name a few, and often specifically to counter the West Indies. It didn't work because though they may have had their births in the Caribbean, they were simply not good enough players at the Test level, though they were decent enough at the English first class level, and we all know that though the English may claim that their first class cricket is a good finishing school, it is in reality for most overseas players, just an opportunity to earn some extra money in their off seasons.

English County cricket may have been strong in the 50s, 60s and 70s when the world's top players were playing in it, but when it threw its doors open to players who could not hold a place in their state teams, leave aside their national teams, the standard dropped alarmingly. It is simply because there are more first class games played during the season in England that there are players with heaps of runs and wickets at the first class level, but come a cropper when confronted with international opposition.

So if the West Indian players were the flavour of the season some 20 years back, now it is the Australians who are being picked, forgetting totally that if they were really that good, wouldn't they be playing for Australia instead of trying their luck at the international level through a passport change? Pattinson is just the latest of the lot and cricket being the great leveler that it is, he may well turn out to be better than his debut Test suggests.

South Africa though are probably chuckling at all this disarray in the English camp though Graeme Smith may well be upset that his team, and he in particular has not got the credit they deserve. They bowled superbly and after dismissing England for a poor score they batted with purpose to ensure that England never got back in the game. Above all was Smith's decision to field again after winning the toss for had he not been pilloried only a few days earlier for getting it wrong in the first test. To do it again takes real courage and conviction and it's a measure of South Africa's strength that his team rose to the occasion and justified their skipper's decision.