England team psychologist, Mark Bawden categorises his charges into two groups. There are the ‘assassins’ – men like Alistair Cook and Jonathan Trott who go about their business in a quietly introverted yet fiercely focussed manner – and the ‘warriors’. Fiery and abrasive on the field of play, these guys harry after every whiff of confrontation in order to ignite their competitive nature and get the best out of themselves. Kevin Pietersen, Stuart Broad, step forward.
Of course, such a process cannot be watertight – happily, top-level cricket is an environment in which a huge range of personalities can prosper. Tim Bresnan seems to be an intriguing hybrid, flitting between chest-beating spells of lion-hearted seam bowling and composed, watchful batting from the crucial number eight position.
Though Graeme Swann’s association between his Yorkshire mate and the dopey Joey from iconic American sitcom Friends is slightly unkind, it neatly defines Bresnan’s popularity within Andy Flower’s set-up. He is wholeheartedly loyal and charismatic.
He also happens to be an outstanding cricketer.
After England’s resounding nine-wicket win over the West Indies at Trent Bridge, Bresnan has now tasted victory in each of his 13 Tests. While he modestly downplays the significance of that statistic, he is far more than a lucky charm. Those burly shoulders were badly missed over a dismal winter of discontent in the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka.
Although doubtlessly enhanced by a tour to Bangladesh at the start of his five-day career, Bresnan’s record in the longest format of the game is strikingly strong. For a start, it easily eclipses those of Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff. The Prince of Pontefract – as the BBC’s Tom Fordyce has genially christened him – currently averages over 40 with the bat and a shade more than 25 with the ball. So often in this sport, numbers lie. Not with Bresnan.
The timing of his contributions in Nottingham managed exactly what the very best make a habit of doing – they hauled a contest in the direction of his side. Joining captain Andrew Strauss at 336-6 on the stroke of lunch on the third day, still an awkward 34 runs in arrears of the visitors, Bresnan was under the microscope. Two and a half hours later, when England were bowled out for 428, the 27 year-old was still there, unbeaten on 39. The East Midlands sunshine was waning and barely half a session remained, but the day wasn’t nearly over.
James Anderson nipped the openers out and Broad grabbed the prize scalp of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but it was Bresnan that stole the show, the headlines and the hearts of a hoarse crowd. Bustling in and keeping faith with a very tight line, he added to four first-innings wickets by trapping Darren Bravo, Denesh Ramdin and the hapless Kirk Edwards lbw.
West Indies were 61-6 and sunk. Bresnan had burst out of the anonymity that the brilliance of Anderson, Broad and Swann often sheds on England’s fourth bowler to claim a first man-of-the-match award. Just as well too, because ahead of next Thursday’s third Test at Edgbaston it appears as though Strauss and Flower will rest Broad – one eye firmly on a titanic tussle against the South African batting juggernaut later in the summer.
Such a selection should be taken as a considerable vote of confidence in Bresnan. Prior to the series and even last week’s encounter, his place was in doubt with many punters angling for the logical (and deserved) inclusion of Steve Finn or Graham Onions, others wanting Surrey speedster Stuart Meaker drafted from left-field.
The old adage of not changing a winning formula prevailed though and Bresnan rose mightily to the gauntlet thrown down by the sceptical media. Ever pragmatic and honest, at least in front of the cameras, he was complimentary about the claustrophobic struggle for places when speaking after the match.
“I just want to continue to improve and to make a difference on the field,” he told Sky TV. “We have a fantastic crop of seam bowlers and it is great that the competition helps you perform. Every time you play, there is someone looking over your shoulder.”
Quiet hunger in his voice and a spring in his step, Bresnan wants more. Now just two short of the record of 15 consecutive Test wins set by Adam Gilchrist, he may soon have a much happier reason to look over his shoulder.
By Charlie Morgan
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