Flower admits to bowler rustiness
England's coach, Andy Flower, admitted that his bowlers were finding it tough to readjust to the disciplines of five-day cricket after another chastising day in the field against Bangladesh at Lord's. Barely a fortnight ago, Flower and his charges were in the Caribbean, celebrating England's triumph in the World Twenty20, but right now, the short-form bowling skills that were instrumental in that victory are proving insufficient to dislodge an obdurate Bangladesh batting line-up.
Bangladesh were asked to follow-on after being dismissed for 282 on the fourth morning, but reached a confident 328 for 5 in their second innings, a lead of 105. Tamim Iqbal led the way with a brilliant 94-ball century, and was expertly assisted by Imrul Kayes, who made 75 in an opening stand of 185, before Junaid Siddique (66 not out) and Jahurul Islam (46) propped up the middle order.
England's attack was led once again by Steven Finn, who took his match tally to six with two further scalps, but for James Anderson, Tim Bresnan and even Graeme Swann, who have all missed out on first-class practice during the World Twenty20, there was a lot of toil with very little reward, at least until the second new ball was claimed late in the day.
"I think in both innings the bowlers themselves would acknowledge they have not performed as they would have liked," said Flower. "We let them get away in the first innings, then dragged it back. But today I thought their openers played superbly. Imrul Kayes left the ball well, and Tamim obviously played a great aggressive innings. We do acknowledge that and give them credit, but we know that we were a little below-par."
England's toils also led to inevitable questions about the balance of the attack, with Jonathan Trott's medium pace being drafted in to bolster a struggling four-man attack. But Flower disagreed that an extra front-line seamer would have made any difference to the scoreline, and instead hinted that Bresnan and Anderson in particular needed to raise their game.
"I don't think the number of bowlers is the issue. I think the way we bowled is the issue," said Flower. "Finn has been excellent, especially in the first innings. He's been superb, quite accurate and surprisingly so for a young man of that sort of pace. But Jimmy Anderson, after a long break and with not much first-class cricket under his belt, is not really hitting his straps - until this evening when, with the new ball from the pavilion end, he looked superb. He was a little bit more like the Jimmy Anderson we know.
"Tim Bresnan was superb in the West Indies in the Twenty20 stuff. But that's a different type of bowling, the type where he can come wide of the crease and angle the ball into the right-handers and swing is not all that important. He hasn't had a chance to get any first-class cricket under his belt for I don't know how many weeks, since three games at the start of the season."
Flower conceded that he had considered selecting a bowling line-up that had been playing more first-class cricket this season, but added that it would have set an unwanted precedent. "I did think about that," he said, "but in the end you also want to pick the right guys.
"You have to make do with whatever schedule you are given, and we got Jimmy back as soon as we could from the West Indies - and he played the second half of that first-class game for Lancashire. Bresnan needed to rest a niggling knee, so couldn't do that. We just make the best of the situation we've got.
One man who did miss out for this match was Stuart Broad, but though Flower conceded that his aggression might have made a short-term difference to the quality of the attack, he reiterated his belief that his key players would need to be rested during the course of a long season. "The Stuart Broad decision is one based on what's best for English cricket and Stuart Broad, looking to the medium and long term," he said. "Sometimes, you have to make those tough decisions."
Looking to the match situation, with England needing five quick wickets to avoid the prospect of an embarrassing draw against the weakest team in Test cricket, Flower insisted that there had been no under-estimating of opponents who had proven tough to beat in their own conditions two months ago. "Other people have talked them down a bit, and talked us up. But we certainly haven't done that in our own changing room.
"We respect them, and they fought very hard in Bangladesh and very hard here. But we've got a brand new ball, and it always does a bit more in the morning - so we've got a good opportunity we need to take then. I personally think there's enough in this pitch to get a result."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.