Bresnan can guide England through tough summer
It took two months and four defeats before England finally remembered the magic formula for winning Tests: pick Tim Bresnan.
That may sound like a facile explanation for this winter’s results, but it’s backed up by the numbers.
Yorkshire’s finest has now played 11 Tests since his debut in May 2009, and England have won every one.
It’s a remarkable run, and only that supernova Adam Gilchrist, with 16 straight wins, has a better record.
Take the bulky all-rounder out of the side and England are mediocre. Their Brez-less record since May 2009 reads: W9, D7, L8. In the matches missed - Ashes Tests at Headingley and Perth, against South Africa in Johannesburg, against Pakistan at The Oval, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, plus last week in Galle - England have been humiliated.
Bresnan may not look, play or tweet like a cricket superstar, but his impact is unmistakable. If the book Moneyball was written about cricket rather than baseball, the grinning Bresnan would be its goofy cover star.
Of course, the England camp would scoff at the suggestion that his return was the crucial difference in Colombo, and rightly so. Bresnan took two wickets to Graeme Swann’s 10, and scored five runs to Kevin Pietersen’s 193.
But in many ways, Bresnan is more representative of this England team than either of those two players.
Like the team he plays for, Bresnan is a cricketer who does lots of things very well without excelling at anything.
After a chastening winter, England remain Test cricket’s No.1 side, but only by a decimal point. That ranking is obtained by an obscure mathematical calculation, but it also feels about right too.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka have exposed England’s vulnerability, and if they slip again, the crown will fall. It could so easily have been different, though.
England’s sunburnt bowlers provided opportunities to win at least three Tests this winter. Pakistan passed only 300 twice, Sri Lanka only reached that score once.
That is a phenomenal effort in foreign conditions, particularly on pitches that were largely benign.
But their bowling unit, led by the magnificent James Anderson, and captained admirably by Andrew Strauss, were callously let down by their batsmen. England’s average first innings score in 2011 was 500, but this winter they have been bowled out for under 200 on five occasions. Truly great teams don’t collapse that routinely, whatever the conditions.
Looking ahead, two challenges await. This summer, England host South Africa over three Tests. In the autumn, they travel to India for four more. Pass the first - against Steyn, Philander, Kallis and De Villiers, and England will have proved that no current team can rule over them.
But by passing the second, against an Indian side that are still lions at home, England will have achieved something far greater, and far more lasting.
Can they succeed? On the evidence of this winter, it’s a 50/50 call. But if they don’t, they’ll always be remembered, just like Bresnan, as very good.