June 6, 2012

English cricket

Settled England's one question

Nikita Bastian
Steven Finn is waiting for another chance in the Test side, Trent Bridge, May 24, 2012
England could afford to play an extra bowler in place of a seventh specialist batsman in home Tests  © PA Photos
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By Martin Jones, UK

England are currently ranked No. 1 in Test cricket, and are facing the prospect of a series against their closest rivals on the points table, South Africa. The nucleus around which Andy Flower's team has built their success is consistency: they always give a player a decent run in the side and rarely make changes to the make-up of the team from match to match. The other element that has contributed to England's fairytale run is their depth. They could probably select a second XI that would be among the top five teams in the world, and certainly possess stronger bowling than Sri Lanka's worryingly toothless reserves and stronger batting that West Indies.

The beauty of the England team is that there are always ten names – or thereabouts – inked in on the team sheet. Their top five of Strauss (batting rank: 23), Cook (6), Trott (16), Pietersen (17) and Bell (18) runs rampant on home turf, ably backed up by keeper Matt Prior (26) who scores fast runs down the order. To put the potency of this batting line-up into perspective, the top five are ranked above India’s Virender Sehwag, and all six are ranked above Shane Watson.

The other four names who are ever-present comprise the four-pronged bowling attack of Anderson (bowling rank: 3), Swann (joint 4th), Broad (6) and Bresnan (15) – the most potent all-round attack in the world. In addition to this, Bresnan, Broad and Swann are allrounders in their own right, ranked well inside the top 100 Test batsmen and above current West Indies opener Kieran Powell.

The only question mark is who should be the eleventh name on the sheet. Currently, England are experimenting with the raw talent of Jonny Bairstow, with Ravi Bopara and James Taylor waiting in the wings. But does the place have to be filled by a batsman? Steven Finn's performances in coloured clothing in the winter earmarked him not only as one of the leading fast bowlers in England, but also the world. His fast and unerring bowling was a beacon of hope amongst the general mediocrity of the ODI team. His addition would push Bresnan to No. 7, Broad up to 8, and Swann to 9.

It would also leave England playing with only six specialist batsmen, mere months after their seven specialist batsmen wilted in the desert against Pakistan. In those Tests, the three lower-order batsmen were as successful as many of the top order.

However, in home conditions, certainly, the inclusion of a bowler, not a batsman in the spot left vacant by Eoin Morgan, and earlier by Paul Collingwood, may be the best way to go.

Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Harjinder Lallie on (June 7, 2012, 10:25 GMT)

This argument seems always to hinge around a stereotypical view of how cricket should be played - in his case that 'every good team needs a good all rounder'. Does this 'have' to be the case? Can a good team not produce results with four good bowlers and the rest batters with just the wickie needing to be an 'all-round' wickie-batsmen?

No doubt the present team may show this to be the case...

Posted by D Bunning on (June 7, 2012, 4:51 GMT)

I have to say I find the debate that having a 5th bowler is a desirable, attacking or adventurous rather strange at this time.

In English, South African and Australian conditions particularly, England have 4 world class bowlers (plus some in reserve) who can easily bowl 90 overs in a day and bowl teams out for less than 3-400 consistently. Adding a "weaker" bowler does not make that much sense as if the other 4 "world class" bowlers are unable to take wickets what is to suggest the 5th and theoretically weaker bowler will?

In the sub continent, when it is harder for seamers to bowl 20 overs in a day, and when it may turn more, playing two spinners, batting Prior at 6 and then playing Bresnan as no.7 "all rounder" makes more sense. Bresnan averages well over 30 with the bat and more than competent for a test number 7 especially with Broad and Swann below him.

In England, we don't need to weaken the batting as the bowling is strong enough already, so why bother?

Posted by Sunil Ramsingh on (June 7, 2012, 1:57 GMT)

This England side is good, but by no means a great side. They're number 1; not because they're great, but because Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have recently lost some of their best players through retirement. The real test for England is the South Africa series. On paper, South Africa is by far the best team in Test match cricket right now.

Posted by James on (June 6, 2012, 23:06 GMT)

@Imran. You have something of a point. We were resoundly beaten in the UAE by a very fired up Pakistan team. The first Test in Sri Lanaka continued the nightmare but England won the second. I also wouldn't necessarily be so brazen as to say that England could field a second XI which would compete with most other nation's first teams, but then you look at the competition - West Indies, Bangladesh, New Zealand - and some of the talent waiting in the wings and in the English Lions - Onions, Finn, Taylor, Bairstow, Morgan et al. - and, yes, I do think that second XI could mix it handsomely with the lower ranked Test sides. Which, if you read the piece again, is really all that the was claimed. ;) I would also like to point out that England trashed Australia in Australia and beat them at home to boot, as well as whitewashing India who were at the time number 1. England haven't been beaten at home in like 2 years. To call the side "mediocre" sounds a lot like sour grapes to me.

Posted by Salim on (June 6, 2012, 23:02 GMT)

England have done well over the last three/four four years. The bowling attack is excellent and the team has depth. No need to mention names at all. As for the batting, although it is more consistent and the top six have done quite well (aided by a very able tail) let's not forget that the batting has not faced a strong fast bowling attack. The success against Australia was I believe mainly due to England's bowling, the batting was against a bowling squad that was hurting and inconsistent. England have yet to face the likes of Philander. SA has a decent spinner as well. And keep in mind the recent result against Pakistan.

Posted by Gary on (June 6, 2012, 22:12 GMT)

Jimmy Anderson has earned the right to play in the 3rd Test match and pick up the cheap West Indian wickets that will now fall to Stephen Finn. Provided he is in form, fit and well and wants to play he should play.If he ends his test career on 399 wicket and injured he wont be too pleased.

Posted by jg2704 on (June 6, 2012, 20:30 GMT)

@Imran - I'd say you are right in that Eng could not field a 2nd 11 against most sides. However I do feel we could field a 2nd bowling quartet and do well. If you say our current best 4 is Swann,Bres,Jimmy,Broad then I'd say Monty , Tremlett , Finn and Onions would also do a great job.Also the only game where Eng were actually swept aside was the 1st test in UAE.In both the other tests we had times of ascendancy and had our batting matched our bowling it would have been a different story. Our bowling attack did better in UAE than any other visiting side. Just that our batting was worse than any visiting side

Posted by Ed on (June 6, 2012, 20:12 GMT)

Genuine all-rounders are very rare and can't be manufactured from thin air. In the meantime, given the selectors are resolved to stick with a 4-man attack, they need a #6 batsman who can bowl a bit. Someone who is able to offer up to 10 cheap overs in a day with some prospect of a wicket. I'm sure I'm not the only England supporter who's heart falls when 12 overs from the new ball Trott comes on: the initiative is instantly handed to the opposition. The West Indians failed to capitalise on this weakness, the South Africans won't.

Aside from the fill-in bowler problem, I'm not convinced that the selectors have settled on the right pace trio. To my mind, Broad and Bresnan are both third seamers, not genuine new ball strike bowlers. I'd like to see Anderson partnered with someone like Finn or Onions (or a fit again Tremlett) - I'm sure that would be more help to Jimmy than randomly resting him. Bresnan should be kept as a like-for-like Broad understudy.

Posted by Tom on (June 6, 2012, 19:37 GMT)

The fifth bowler is a red herring. The only reason to include five bowlers is if a team is struggling - or believes it will struggle - to bowl another team out with only four bowlers. England do not. England have drawn only three Tests since the winter of 2009/10 and all of those were ruined by the weather. The Tests that they have lost since then have been down to poor batting, which suggests they need an extra batsman, not an extra bowler.

England bowlers are most dangerous in home conditions and have dismissed stellar visiting batting lineups with relative ease in recent years. Have we so soon forgotten Cardiff where Sri Lanka were rolled over in two sessions by *three* bowlers? Perhaps a fifth bowler might be useful on a flat Indian wicket but they certainly don't need one in England.

It would be nice to have a settled number six (preferably one with a bowling option, as with Collingwood) but the "open" spot in the team provides a useful outlet for the training up of new talent.

Posted by Imran on (June 6, 2012, 16:48 GMT)

Given the narrow margin that England hold at the top of the rankings, and the ease with which their full-strength side has been swept aside in recent games, it is perhaps a little conceited to presume they could field a 2nd 11 to rival the world's best at a time where it is easy to dismiss their 1st 11's claim to the throne. Time to reign in the unbridled, and frankly, ridiculous posturing of what is a mediocre side, at best.

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