The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

THE GOOGLY: WHY BOWLERS NEVER CAPTAIN ENGLAND

FOLLOW HUW @HUWZAT

Perhaps it should become the MCC’s Law 43: England shall not appoint a bowler as permanent captain.

Joe Root – as expected – became England’s Test captain this week. At 26, he follows in the footsteps of Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart, Mike Atherton, Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and David Gower… give the job to your best (or one of your best) batters. Allan Lamb, Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher also filled in.

It is rare for a bowler to be given the armband. In my memory, Andrew Flintoff (albeit an allrounder) did the job when Michael Vaughan was injured and Marcus Trescothick ill. He led England to a creditable 1-1 draw in India in 2005/06. (Let's not mention the 2006/07 Ashes.)

Then there was that summer of 1988, when England had more captains than Zsa Zsa Gabor had husbands. Chris Cowdrey (another allrounder) had one Test and John Emburey two (as well as Gatting, Gooch and Derek Pringle as stand-in). Well, nearly (she had nine by the way).

The last long-serving bowler to be England’s Test captain was Bob Willis. His record was pretty good. Series wins over India and Pakistan in 1982, and New Zealand in 1983. He fared less well in New Zealand and Pakistan in 1983/84, and the big blot on his CV was the Ashes in 1982/83. The 2-1 defeat was no disgrace, but it seems to have been the final nail in the coffin of bowlers leading England.

Stuart Broad would have been an interesting choice. He is pleasant, bright and has immense character. Look how he has conducted himself in Australia after being public enemy No.1 after not walking – oh, what a heinous crime – at Trent Bridge in 2013. They could not get enough of him in Tasmania this winter, bowling for Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash.

So why are bowlers overlooked? It must be because seamers get tired. When they are bowling, it takes all their focus and strength. They bowl six to eight overs a spell, then need the same length of time to recharge their batteries down at fine-leg. They have also notoriously overbowled and underbowled themselves!

The classic example of the former is Flintoff again filling in against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in 2006. England had to bowl 199 overs in the second innings and still could not take the final wicket, with Flintoff pounding in for 51 of them (2 for 131). Injury soon followed, of course.

Trawl back through time and there have been very few England bowlers/captains. 

Gubby Allen will always be recalled for the 1936/37 Ashes, when Don Bradman orchestrated Australia’s fightback from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

The best England bowler/captain? Raymond Illingworth without a doubt. Maybe it helped that he was a spinner and had more puff. 

P.S...

I had a short break down in the New Forest at the weekend and encountered a cricket hotspot.

Beautiful birch and oak trees, that lovely mossy heathland that you find down there, and beautiful wooden pavilions.

First up was Cadnam Cricket Club, ticking all the above boxes. Then drive seven miles and there was Balmer Lawn, home of Brockenhurst CC, who play in front of the grand-looking hotel there. 

And best of all was Lyndhurst CC at the natural beauty spot, Boltons Bench. At first I didn’t even realise it was a cricket club, what with the New Forest ponies and donkeys milling about, dining on the outfield. Then I clocked the posts and rope cordoning off the ample square. Then I clocked the quaint pavilion with its thatched roof.

What an area! Can anywhere else in England rival it? Answers on a postcard please.