From Bradman to Hetmyer, the best writers’ judgment stands out - mostly | Daily News

From Bradman to Hetmyer, the best writers’ judgment stands out - mostly

Shimron Hetmyer celebrates his century in the second ODI at Barbados. Will he build on the promise shown during England’s tour?
Shimron Hetmyer celebrates his century in the second ODI at Barbados. Will he build on the promise shown during England’s tour?

“It is curious,” Neville Cardus wrote in this newspaper in December 1928, “how the sense of style and class will make itself felt even through a cable read thousands of miles from the spot.”

This, in the end, is perhaps the most important job of the cricket writer, and what makes reporting more than the mere reproduction of scores and statistics with the occasional added adjective. The reader’s ability to judge a player has been rendered significantly easier since Cardus’s time by the advent of, well, almost everything we now use to watch and learn about cricket except paper, ink and eyes. Still, the writer’s job continues to be done, and with a bit of luck the sense of style and class continues to make itself felt.

When just last month Vic Marks used a few broad brushstrokes to describe “a young batsman who commands attention … a left-hander who has a bit of swagger and likes to hit the ball”, it was the first time the play of Shimron Hetmyer had been described for the Guardian reader. Watching and reading about England’s tour of the West Indies the picture of a 22-year-old of considerable style and promise has continued to fill out, as Hetmyer has blossomed into everyone’s new favourite batsman.

Cardus was writing about one of them when he penned the above statement in 1928, a player who at that point he had never witnessed. As it happens the first time Don Bradman was mentioned by the Guardian had been that January, in a report on a Sheffield Shield match between Queensland and New South Wales, when we described him as “a medium-pace bowler” who “kept a good length”. As with Hetmyer, who has already been a Test cricketer for nearly two years, it took an England tour for a fuller picture to emerge.

In a warm-up game against NSW in November 1928 Bradman was “a brilliant young colt” who “batted splendidly” with “an easy style”. The hyperbole grew further following a century on debut in the first Test, and by the time Cardus got a chance to see Bradman at first hand, when Australia arrived in England in 1930, the 21-year-old was already considered among the world’s finest players. “The genius of this remarkable boy consists in the complete summary he gives us of the technique of batsmanship,” Cardus wrote that summer. “The really astonishing fact about Bradman is that a boy should play as he does, with the sophistication of an old hand and brain. How came this Bradman to expel from him all the greenness and impetuosity of youth while retaining the strength and alacrity of youth?”

Bradman wasn’t the last great batsman whom the Guardian initially considered a bowler. In 1954 we wrote about “an 18-year-old left-arm slow bowler from Barbados” (actually 17) by the name of Garfield Sobers. It took three more years, and a century against MCC at Lord’s, before we got excited about his batsmanship, Denys Rowbotham writing that he was “clearly a man who loves to hit hard and often”, while “against all the slow bowlers he used his feet as feet should be used”.

It can be irresistibly tempting to bestow greatness upon players who are simply very promising. Phil Tufnell used to say that Ed Joyce was the best young batsman he had ever seen, an honour Bob Cottam, Somerset’s director of cricket, bestowed on the wildly hyped Mark Lathwell in 1993: “He has immense talent and it’s incredible the way he takes everything in his stride.” The Evening Standard once gave its best young cricketer award to a callow 13-year-old by the name of John Major. “He’s a superb player, the best young player in the country. I see a lot of Tendulkar in him,” said Justin Langer in 2007, of Ravi Bopara.

All of these descriptions turned out to be a little overenthusiastic, though observers have also sometimes failed to get excited enough. In May 1974 we sent John Arlott to watch a county match between Somerset and Lancashire, where a youngster was given his first-class debut. “Botham, in his first match, made a pleasant impression,” he deadpanned. The following month Henry Blofeld saw the same player hit 45 not out for Somerset against Hampshire in the Benson & Hedges Cup. “Ian Botham, a young man of 18 from Yeovil, played not only the innings of his life, but he also lifted the game from a state of conventional excitement to one of unbelievable suspense and drama and finally into the realms of romantic fiction,” he drooled. There were, it turned out, other innings-of-his-life to come.

Looking back, it is possible to appreciate those occasions when, even the first time writers have seen a young player, they have managed to convey a little of the magic to come. Tendulkar himself was first mentioned by Mike Selvey in 1989, when he played for an Air India XI against England. “The young batters were mighty impressive,” he wrote. “Tendulkar [is] a Gavaskar clone in mannerisms, dirty pads and, it is said, ability.” Fifteen years earlier, after seeing a game between an England XI and the Leeward Islands in Antigua, Blofeld had heralded “a dramatically exciting stroke player” by the name of Vivian Richards. “Like all good players Richards has that extra split second in which to play his strokes and his footwork is good. He has an exciting array of strokes without the experience to know when not to use them.” When we first wrote about a 21-year-old Richard Hadlee in May 1973, Michael Carey spotted that “his splendid action will bear watching by connoisseurs and budding fast bowlers alike”.

Watching for the first time a young player who, if only in your mind and at that moment, could be destined for greatness is one of the genuine thrills of sport, one that can be rendered greater by their subsequent success but cannot be dimmed by disappointment. As ever Cardus transmitted this excitement flawlessly.

“Here was a great cricketer in the making,” he wrote in June 1937 of Bill Edrich, the kind of player who could inspire others to take (and indeed build) a stand. “A finer exhibition of resourceful batsmanship could not well be imagined. When the pitch was at its worst he executed his strokes according to the soundest principles, and his power when he did hit was impressive. He is a player far above ordinary good or high class; he is perhaps the finest young batsman of the day.”

And on that day, if not on any other, it was true. – theguardian



Add new comment