Rise and fall of the English Joel Garner?
My hunch versus the considered decision of the England test management team – would you give me a price? A team of three distinguished test cricketers, a fast bowling guru all the way from Melbourne, sports scientists and data analysts lined up against my instinct.
I don’t know Chris Tremlett. I don’t know anyone who does know him. I have only seen him play in the flesh a couple of times. But I feel confident that his award of a central contract at the end of the summer is a poor investment. We’ll not see him bowl again for England. His injury one test into the ‘championship’ series with India last summer heralds a departure as sudden as his arrival had been seven months earlier.
Tremlett was chosen for the 2010/11 Ashes tour. His selection was unexpected, but not in the category of surprise quick tour picks as he had played a handful of tests in 2008 and half a dozen seasons of county cricket.
Replacing the injured Stuart Broad, Tremlett bowled sustained, challenging, fast spells in six consecutive innings, and again against Sri Lanka this summer. Very tall, strong and with an arcing action, he moved the ball in the air, off the seam and surprised the Aussie batsmen with bounce. It’s a little odd to describe something repeated again and again as thrilling, but seeing Tremlett pressure the Australian batsmen over after over was exactly that. An English Joel Garner had been discovered.
But 29 year old ‘Joel Garners’ don’t get discovered. It is the rarity of Tremlett’s ascent that makes his demise seem so predictable. It’s not common for fast bowlers to suddenly become world beaters, with barely any test pedigree, on the cusp of 30. They tend to break through young. There have been exceptions. Stuart Clark spent two years taking test wickets for fun from the age of 30. But his emergence had been delayed by Australia already having one of test cricket’s all time most potent attacks. It was only the grave illness of Glenn McGrath’s wife that brought him his debut.
The Americans have a phrase for what I believe we’ve experienced with Tremlett: the career season. A player has lifted himself to a level of performance that he won’t be able to match again. I seem to remember that this phenomenon occurred most often when a player was in the final year of a contract and so had more than just the current season’s honours to play for. There’s no suggestion, despite the central contract award, that this is the case with Tremlett. With him, my hunch is no doubt influenced by the oft-shared rumours that he lacks the steel to translate his ability into consistent performance.
It is of course just a hunch. But if it comes to pass that Tremlett doesn’t return to his best for England, he did enough for me in those three tests in Australia. Hopes that he could team-up with Anderson and Broad may have been dashed, but he won’t be a cricketer I remember with regrets of what he could have done, but gratitude for what he did. It makes his central contract a just reward, not just a poor investment. And with Steven Finn bowling fast this autumn, we can hope that even if the English Joel Garner has gone, the English Curtley Ambrose may be on his way.