DateLine: 13th February 2006
A resolutely gritty batsman and always committed fielder, Gareth Battyís efforts in an England shirt havenít always been appreciated thanks to his limited turning of a cricket ball. There was surprise when his name was first mentioned as an international possibility, and despite looking the Australians in the eye when he made his ODI debut against them in the VB series of 2002/3, they found little to trouble them in his batting or bowling. However, consistently excellent seasons in 2002 and 2003 had pushed his name forward to the fringes of the Test team, and the tour to the turning wickets of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka seemed ideal for him. However, after being outbowled (along with Ashley Giles) by Mohammad Rafique and the 17 year old Enamul Haque Jr, his international credentials were seriously questioned. The fact that Muttiah Muralitharan also outbowled him in Sri Lanka was neither surprising nor shameful, although when Batty had a bat in his hand he got the better of the wide eyed wizard, and he was instrumental in England escaping with draws from both Kandy and the Sri Lankan fortress of Galle. His efforts with the bat retained him his place for the tour to the Caribbean later that winter, although Ashley Giles was still in pole position to claim the one spinning berth in the Test team. However, after the Warwickshire man had an awful first three Tests, and Batty had bowled England to a win against an obscurely named Carib Beer XI in a tour match, he was selected for the Fourth Test. However, he may have wished he hadnít been, as his 52 overs helped shepherd Brian Lara towards his world record 400*. Batty at last played a Test on English soil in May 2005 at Lords, although he wasnít needed to bowl as the English pace attack seamed and swung the Bangladeshís to a cricketing death, and then the top order made hay against the Tigers bowling attack. He did at least get a bowl in the Second Test, and he took a wicket when Mohammad Ashraful took a typically ill-advised swing at his bowling and skied a catch to Matthew Hoggard. That relatively easy wicket only reduced his Test bowling average to 63 though. Despite being a perfect Test match no.8 or no.9, his bowling hasnít displayed penetration in Test matches or particularly good economy against major cricketing powers in ODIís, and although he has done well to have 50 wicket seasons in the Championship, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he doesnít have the sufficient quality with the ball to be a consistently effective international bowler.
Batty is currently the Worcestershire vice-captain, where he frequently skippers the team when Vikram Solanki is on England duty. His first county had been Yorkshire, for whom he had endured a harrowing First-class debut when his first spell of 5 overs gushed away for 59 runs. His one appearance in the Championship for second county Surrey (where his brother Jonathan still plays) surprisingly saw him play as a specialist no.3 batsman, although less surprising was the fact that he failed to get a bowl ahead of Saqlain Mushtaq. By his own recent standards, Batty had a poor 2005 with the ball, and it cost him a place on the spin friendly tour to Pakistan, where both the veteran Shaun Udal and the rookie Alex Loudon were picked ahead of him. However, unless English cricket can produce the sort of spinner in the next five years that it hasnít in the last twenty-five, it is likely that Batty will don English colours again before his career ends.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)