Who were the hardest batsmen to plan for? Ask Nasser and Bumble

Ask Nasser and Bumble! Our resident columnists answer YOUR questions… on their best Ashes memory, who the hardest batsmen to plan for was and will England lift the T20 World Cup?

  • Nasser Hussain and David Lloyd answer your questions ahead of the World Cup
  • The former England pair answer if they would have played for a rival county
  • Brian Lara and Jim Yardley are two of the hardest batsmen they have planned for
  • Bumble does not think Lara’s incredible batting records will ever be broken

Despite the global coronavirus pandemic decimating the sporting calendar, two of our resident cricket columnists have still had plenty to mull over.

Opening up to your questions, they were asked whether they would have ever crossed the divide to play for a rival, their toughest opponents and they debated whether England will win the T20 World Cup.  

Here is what Sportsmail’s columnists Nasser Hussain and David Lloyd made of your questions…

You were one-club men. Would you have played for a rival county?

Nasser: I’m not sure anyone else wanted me! I was Essex through and through from Under 11s upwards. I don’t think there was ever a moment when I wanted to leave, good or bad seasons, in or out of that wonderful side we had. What Essex were good at was taking people like John Childs, Peter Such and Ronnie Irani from other counties and helping them become England players.

Nasser Hussain celebrates scoring a century in a match between Essex and Yorkshire

Bumble: I did get offers, from Essex as a player and Glamorgan as a coach. The upheaval of moving house just meant it wouldn’t have worked financially. It was a different era. Anyone wanting to move had to have six months out of the game. That wouldn’t get past employment law now. We weren’t well paid and it wasn’t worth moving, but my heart wasn’t anywhere other than Lancashire.

Bumble: You could name so many great players but I’m going to say Jim Yardley of Worcestershire and Northants. He was a fabulous lad who always had a smile on his face and somehow every shot he played went down to third man. Lancashire captain Jack Bond reckoned he must have had a round bat. We once put nine slips in for Jim — and he still got it through!

Nasser: Good question. I didn’t captain against him much but I have to say Brian Lara. Poor Mike Atherton would move a fielder and Lara would almost take the mickey and hit it in the gap where the fielder had been. He was touched by genius and when he was switched on you were weeing into the wind trying to stop him.

West Indian captain Brian Lara celebrates scoring 400 runs against England back in 1994

Will anyone beat Lara’s first-class record 501 and Test 400?

Nasser: Never say never. Who would have thought somebody would go past Garry Sobers but Lara did it twice. If ball is going to have an edge over bat in Test cricket in future it is going to become harder and harder.

Bumble: No. It would be extraordinary if anyone did that. I’ve met Brian hundreds of times and he is a great lad but he definitely had that little streak in him. Call it competitiveness or whatever but he could look after himself. He was so mentally strong.

How important was Craig White to your England team?

Bumble: Craig never knew how good he was. He was such a quiet lad who was always in his shell but he reminds me so much of Mark Wood. He could bowl 90mph and you didn’t know where he got his pace from. His body was fragile but he would be box office now.

England captain Hussain (centre) with team-mates Adam Hollioake (left) and Craig White

Nasser: I like people bringing up cricketers who don’t get too many mentions these days. Craig was huge to our side and instrumental in everything we did. 

He’s a really good guy and was one of the quietest two people I captained along with Jimmy Anderson. He lacked a bit of confidence and even I, Mr Angry, tried to put an arm round his shoulder.

How would you handle being quarantined with Sourav Ganguly?

Bumble: I like Sourav. I reckon he changed the face of Indian cricket and made them much tougher. And now he’s a top administrator. I would rather have my mates round but if I had to have a dinner party with cricket people, Sourav is on the table.

Nasser: When I played it would have been one of my worst nightmares because we were always at each other but he is one of the characters you look at completely differently once you are retired. I’ve really enjoyed and liked Sourav in the commentary box, even though he still has that tendency to do things his own way.

I know now he’s a good guy and the Board of Control for Cricket in India have chosen well in making him president. He won’t be afraid of ruffling feathers.

Sourav Ganguly is a smart selection to be president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, as he is seen speaking during a press conference at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai

Bumble, Wisden says Lancashire are the most successful county of the last six decades. Are you surprised?

Bumble: Who else would it have been? That lot from over the hill are mid-table mediocrity. It was a foregone conclusion and I’m just surprised it has taken Wisden this long to realise it. Who edits it these days? Sportsmail’s Lawrence Booth! He’s been a bit slack on this one.

You can have one of Tony Greig, Sir Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff or Ben Stokes at his peak. Who?

Bumble: You have given me four fabulous cricketers. But who’s the best? It would have to be Ian Botham. Ben can turn a game on its head with the bat and Freddie could do it with the ball but even they would go for Beefy.

Nasser: Ian Botham is the greatest cricketer to have played for England. Ben Stokes may end up taking over by the end of his career if he carries on the way he has done but Beefy is No 1 for the extraordinary things he did.

Ian Botham enjoys a pint of beer at Edgbaston after helping England beat Australia in 1981

Would you prefer an elite keeper who is an average batsman or a top-class batsman but average keeper?

Nasser: I go back to the Duncan Fletcher principle. You can turn a decent keeper into an outstanding one, as with Alec Stewart, but it’s harder to turn a reasonable batsman into a world-class one. I’d go for the better batter and drill them hard on their keeping.

Bumble: It depends on the balance of the team but the way that question is put I’d have the top-class keeper. Ask Michael Holding and he would have the best keeper every time.

The best keepers you played with?

Bumble: I played with Alan Knott and Bob Taylor so there are two top-quality ones. One of the best I saw at county level who doesn’t perhaps get the credit he is due is Warren Hegg. Wasim Akram would speak very highly of him. And of course Farokh Engineer was just wonderful. He would keep us entertained all day.

England and Kent wicket-keeper Alan Knott always showed his style with the bat, seen in 1980

Nasser: Jack Russell had this unbelievable ability for the ball to melt into his gloves. He would take it so cleanly standing up that you would think, “has he caught that or not?” Stewie wasn’t as natural as Jack but their stats in terms of drops wouldn’t be that different. If I was putting an England XI together from my time I’d have Alec as keeper-batsman.

What was your best Ashes memory?

Nasser: There weren’t that many good ones, but that week at Edgbaston in 1997 stands out. We had beaten Australia 3-0 in the one-dayers and then I got a double hundred with Graham Thorpe, one of my best mates in the game, at the other end as we won the first Test. We felt we had a chance of winning the Ashes but then turned up at Lord’s and got McGrathed.

Bumble: Winning in Melbourne as coach in 1998-99 when Dean Headley was fantastic with the ball. We frightened them to death. It meant we were 2-1 down going to Sydney and could easily have won there. They produced a filthy pitch and opened with Colin ‘Funky’ Miller to bowl spin along with Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill. Then Michael Slater should have been run out and I maintain to this day third umpire Simon Taufel pressed the wrong button.

Dean Headley of England takes the wicket of Damien Fleming of Australia in 1998

Nasser, what was it like working on Sky’s ‘watchalong’ of Headingley and the World Cup final last weekend?

Nasser: I don’t think something like that had been done before and I really enjoyed it. What I most liked was sitting there listening to Ben Stokes and Joe Root talking us through the last hour at Headingley and watching their reactions. 

To have the captain and main protagonist there telling us exactly how it happened really was a pleasure.

Bumble: I missed it! Mainly because Vipers has had me out working in the garden all day in the nice weather. But I heard it was absolutely terrific. Must confess I’m not watching much TV. We just put on a drama in the evening and then we’re done.

What are your wackiest memories of the start of the county season?

Bumble: The most memorable came in June 1975 when it snowed in Buxton. It was shirtsleeve and ice cream weather as Lancashire piled up 477 for five but then, with no play on the Sunday, we turned up on the Monday to be greeted with hail and then snow. Inevitably Dickie Bird was the umpire and while he called the day off we had snowball fights. When we came back the next day the pitch started to steam and we bowled Derbyshire out for 42 and 87.

England captain and Essex player Hussain during the Vodafone Challenge Series in 2001

The first game I umpired was at this time of year at Fenner’s when Essex played Cambridge University. 

The Essex lot were all crackers and as soon as I called play JK Lever ran in to bowl the first ball of the season — with an orange! It exploded when this bloke tried to hit it.

Nasser: We won a couple of championships at Essex so you would have the MCC v champion county match at Lord’s around this time. I would be standing at slip with hands in pockets on the teabag warmers we had in those days in a biting wind with five layers on feeling like the Michelin Man. It was the only time I prayed, with my poppadom fingers, the ball wouldn’t come to me. Much better to have the game like they do now in Abu Dhabi or Galle.

The T20 World Cup, virus permitting, how are England placed?

Nasser: England’s T20 record is not as good as in 50 overs but that might have been because of their World Cup focus. You will see, if we do have any kind of summer, England focusing on their T20 side. Australia at home will be a challenge and India with all their IPL experience will be among the favourites but England are well placed.

England are so well led by Eoin Morgan and they will never have a better chance at the T20’s

Bumble: England are so well led by Eoin Morgan and they will never have a better chance of the double after winning the 50-over World Cup. The big question for me is where Jos Buttler bats. We’ve got a few who can open but not many who can do what he does with seven overs to go. India will be a force and don’t look away from New Zealand. They are always there or thereabouts.

Who are you most excited about in the county game?

Nasser: Essex’s Dan Lawrence. He hit 190 and 125 with the Lions in Australia this winter — anyone who does that has to have something about him. He bats a bit like Zak Crawley, a little leg-sided and plays with a slightly closed face and a bottom hand grip, but you can’t score the amount of runs he has without being a very good player.

Bumble: Tom Banton of Somerset, because his set-up reminds me of Kevin Pietersen. And, looking to the next Ashes, it would be great if Jamie Overton could get fit and strong and bowl fast again. England could really do with him because he’s an out-and-out quick.

Nasser then got a few more questions from fellow commentator Rob Key… 

Essex batsman Dan Lawrence impressed with 190 and 125 with the Lions in Australia this year

Is it fair to say that Rob Key gets the better of you in your exchanges?

Nasser: No.

Apart from the Sky group on WhatsApp, how many people did you text when Virat Kohli said you were his favourite commentator?

Nasser: I reckon Rob Key should be very careful in what he divulges to the world from our WhatsApp group. If he wants to go down that road I would be delighted to reveal some he has sent me!

India’s Virat Kohli reacts after losing his wicket against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup

Why did you call your book Playing with Fire when you have never actually played with fire?

Nasser: Perhaps I might have to explain to Rob that something can have two meanings.

Shane Warne told a story last week of you calling him a ‘fat p**** who would never captain Australia again’ just before he got you out. is that true?

Nasser: Ricky Ponting is a wise man and he says Shane has already added VAT to every story he tells. So if he has eaten five pizzas in a week he will tell you it is 50. He sledged me every innings I played against him so maybe I said that to him but I don’t think it was just before he had me stumped in Sydney. What I should say is Shane was absolutely brilliant on the Sky podcast Rob is talking about.

Were you welcoming to debutants as captain? Did you offer encouragement when they were in the slips?

Nasser: I really like the way England hand out caps but in our day we had a lot more on our plate and I might literally throw a cap at a debutant and say, “good luck, have a good career.” And Rob would have been chatting to Freddie Flintoff in the debut he is referring to and I would have had a go at him but the big question really should be what on earth was Rob Key doing at slip in a Test match in the first place. 

Nasser Hussain about to sweep the ball for four runs, watched by wicketkeeper Paul Nixon

Who would you pay to watch right now …and in the past?

Nasser: Virat Kohli in a 50-over run chase. He just seems to chase down any score every time. In terms of being easy on the eye, Saeed Anwar had an elegance and grace through the off-side. I’ve been watching some old footage of Brian Lara with that big back-lift and, wow, could he bat. But I have to go for my childhood hero David Gower. I remember an early game against Leicestershire and I was at cover point as he leant on one and before I could move it hit the boundary boards behind me. Everything I had admired was there in front of my eyes.

Bumble: I’d definitely pay to watch England play as a team. Ben Stokes is box office. But I’d go for Virat Kohli. I reckon he is the best player to come out of India. He is fearless and, crucially, I think he always puts his team first. He has to win — for the team. Aesthetically I would never tire of watching Lara. He was a flipping genius.

And Nasser’s final word…

Who said I didn’t treat debutants properly? Here I am giving Steve Harmison and Rob Key their first caps, against India at Trent Bridge in 2002. What did Rob expect? A fanfare of trumpets? 

Nasser (left) pictured with Steve Harmison (middle) and Rob Key (right) getting their first cap

Join the debate and follow @asknasserbumble on twitter to leave your questions or email [email protected]

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