England: A lament for Jade

There are two images, each nearly four years apart which best demonstrate the predicament which Jade Dernbach and England find themselves in. The first is in 2010 and is of a shattered set of stumps and a Somerset batsman, a certain Jos Buttler, completely bemused as Dernbach bowls a slower ball at the end of an innings which he fails to read. Dernbach reels away in triumph, delighting in another scalp gained courtesy of his miraculous slower ball.

The next image is Dernbach striding away from his mark, chuntering away to himself having conceded 44 runs from his three overs as both David Miller and AB De Villiers have tucked into him like he was a club bowler. No matter what he tried, both the batsman read him like a book and treated him with like he was a club bowler. It is, suffice to say, also a familiar image.

The truth about the two images is that they tell a story. Dernbach was at one time, arguably the most exciting young fast bowler coming through in England, with Mick Newell (coach of Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad at the time) hailing him as the premier pace bowling talent in County Cricket.

Capable of bowling 90 mph with a yorker he had perfected in limited overs cricket and a variety of slower balls which were frequently proving too much for County batsmen. England, a team lacking a quality death bowler since Gough’s retirement and fresh from watching their bowlers get thrashed at the death in the 2011 World Cup, were salivating at the prospect.

However if England were hoping to get their own version of Malinga, the reality at times is that it has seemed more like they have brought in their own version of Mick Lewis. Over the past three years, for every glimpse of the dazzling talent which Dernbach possesses, there are two or three reminders of just how large the gap is between domestic cricket and international cricket – a gap which has proved too much for far too many.

Dernbach’s supporters argue his figures are distorted by the fact that he bowls at the death, and there is some truth to that. Bowling at the death is one of the hardest arts to specialise in, it is a time when a minor mistake will be punished ruthlessly as batsmen seek to attack. It is a tough art to perfect, but one which Dernbach was brought in to do but one which he has so far predominantly failed at – with the worst economy rate in both ODI and Twenty20 cricket to his name.

It is easy to blame the player, as fans are wont to do, and Dernbach himself is hardly the shy and retiring type – as David Willey pointedly remarked in the T20 Final last summer – and at times it appears that Dernbach has lost control and been rattled by the situation and by the slightest hint of a batsman getting the best of him, a marked contrast to the cool confidence of a Malinga or a Bracken – two of the finest death bowlers of the past decade.

Yet England should also accept some of the blame – no-one likes to see a bowler so visibly struggle so often and Dernbach has endured too many hard days, too many hammerings that what little confidence and spark he would have carried in with him has undoubtedly taken a hit. While the management may consider it supportive to stick with a player through the tough times, continually exposing a player in such a way seems counterproductive at the very least. His latest hammering, appears to have been the final straw, but the reality is that England have continually exposed him to the toughest aspect of cricket with little sense of protection and the result has been a very public humiliation.

Yet now as they appear to be parting ways, the saddest part is the what might have been. Dernbach, a talented bowler who appeared to have the world at his feet, stands on the brink of being cast into the wilderness – joining the likes of Ajmal Shahzad and Graham Onions in international purgatory. While some may rejoice at the thought, you can’t help but feel a bit of regret about Jade Dernbach and the sense of what was, what is and what might have been.


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