England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day

England's potent attack overcomes errors

England made life harder for themselves than it should have been on the opening day, but their pace attack - and those vying for selection - are offering the suggestion of a strong pack

George Dobell at Headingley

June 20, 2014

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'I feel like I've performed' - Plunkett


Liam Plunkett's celebrations were in full force, England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day, June 20, 2014
Liam Plunkett's rewards have been hard-earned, both on and off the field © Getty Images
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A maiden five-wicket haul in Test cricket is "just the beginning," according to Liam Plunkett. Recalled to the Test side for the first time in seven years in the first Test of this series, he produced a display of pace, skill and heart to prevent embarrassment on the first day of the second Test.

England squandered half-a-dozen chances and gambled on inserting Sri Lanka in conditions that offered little to their seamers but, thanks to Plunkett's sustained hostility and a hat-trick from Stuart Broad, still finished the day in a good position.

It was another step in the remarkable resurgence of Plunkett who, a couple of years ago, was reduced to playing second XI county cricket and must have thought his days as an international cricketer were over. It was also witnessed by his father, Alan, who required a kidney transplant seven years ago, but declined Liam's offer of one of his to ensure that his cricket career was not jeopardised.

"I would never have dreamed of this happening 18-months ago," Plunkett said. "But it was important for me to show I could perform at Test level.

"As soon as I played last week - even from the moment I turned up - I felt it was more for me. I felt I bowled well last week and created chances. It was my job to try to create chances on a flat wicket and I felt I did that. It just wasn't to be.

"I wanted to perform to prove that and to pick up a five is just the start. I feel confident here [in Test cricket]. I back myself and everyone in the dressing room backs each other, which is great."

This was not a particularly quick track. Certainly it was nothing compared to those seen in Perth or Brisbane over the winter. So to have a top-order batsman fending to short-leg off a brute of a lifter - as was the case with Lahiru Thirimanne - bodes well for the future.

After a winter when the difference in pace between the England and Australian attacks was marked, England are beginning to assemble a group of bowlers who just might be able to fight fire with fire. With Chris Jordan, Steven Finn and Plunkett all vying for on-going selection at present, and the Overton twins and Tymal Mills offering hope for the future, England's seam attack, at least, is beginning to look a little more potent.

It is to be hoped that the ECB coaching staff do not interfere. Finn and Plunkett have both suffered from over-coaching in the past, while Jordan only started to deliver on his potential after he moved to a county that allowed him to simply play cricket and not think too much about technique.

The last thing Plunkett requires is to be sent to the ECB's academy at Loughborough for any extra assistance. He was described, by virtue of his height and the bounce he generates, as "totally different to other fast bowers" by Dinesh Chandimal after play. In days gone by, England might have tried to homogenise him.

The excellence of Plunkett and Co saved Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, in particular, from an awkward day. There were several times when it appeared the decision to insert Sri Lanka was incorrect - not least when they negotiated the first hour without loss and when they reached 108 for 2 - and there was little movement or pace in the pitch to justify Cook's decision.

Had Plunkett and Broad not performed so well, the criticism of Cook's tactical acumen would surely have grown and it might have been asked whether the criticism from Shane Warne and others had goaded him into attempting something rash and out of character. Sri Lanka later confirmed that they would have batted first anyway.

There might also have been questions about his use of Plunkett. While Plunkett has rebuilt his reputation largely through running down the hill at Headingley and operating in short spells, here he was asked to run up the hill and operate in spells of up to eight overs. If England want to retain him at his best, Cook may well have to use him more sparingly.

Prior endured a disappointing day. As well as missing a straightforward edge offered by Sangakkara on 27, he also failed to appeal for another edge from the same batsman on 16 - replays suggest it would have been given out had England reviewed or, perhaps, even appealed fully - and failed to insist on utilising the DRS for a lbw appeal when Kaushal Silva had 10. Had England done so, Billy Bowden's decision would have been overruled.

This was not the easiest day on which to keep wicket, with the ball moving substantially after it passed the bat, but Test keepers cannot afford to drop chances like the one Prior missed off Sangakkara. Having kept wicket very little since he was dropped in Australia, the doubts over Prior's future are still prevalent. If a keeper in county cricket was in better form - and Jos Buttler remains a work in progress with the gloves - his place would be in jeopardy.

This was also a worrying day for Headingley. While 11,000 tickets were pre-sold for the first day, about half of that number attended in the first session. While the crowd numbers edged up over the day, they remained modest bearing in mind that there are three Yorkshire players in the England side and that this game has been staged a little later in the season than recent early-summer Tests. In short, Yorkshire are running out of excuses for their continued failure to attract spectators to international cricket.

Some will say ticket prices remain too high. But with a starting point of £32 for adults and £15 for concessions, they compare favourably with most leisure pursuits. Perhaps people are put off by the poor spectator experience that was quite common here a few years ago. It takes time to change public perception and the club's recent attempts to reach out to people from beyond their traditional support base has yet to bear much fruit.

Saturday's sales are stronger - around 15,000 are expected - but day three sales are dismal. The fact that play was briefly delayed after a minor disturbance, a spectator was arrested having hit Shaminda Eranga on the back with a piece of cheese thrown from the White Rose Stand (formerly the Western Terrace), will do nothing to improve their reputation.

With Yorkshire having a staging agreement with the ECB that guarantees them a Test every year until the end of 2019, they look, at present, certain to host an Ashes Test that year. With England hosting the World Cup that season, only one team - Australia - is currently scheduled to arrive on a Test tour and only five Tests are planned. It is, though, just possible that Ireland or Afghanistan will have gained Tests status by then.

With a capacity of just 16,000 and a modest sales record, Headingley could count itself fortunate if it gains another high-profile Ashes Test and looks unlikely to be able to sell enough tickets for any other game. Even with the help of their in-form England contingent.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Madpashcrickers on (June 21, 2014, 8:15 GMT)

"After a winter when the difference in pace between the England and Australian attacks was marked, England are beginning to assemble a group of bowlers who just might be able to fight fire with fire. ... It is to be hoped that the ECB coaching staff do not interfere. Finn and Plunkett have both suffered from over-coaching in the past ... The last thing Plunkett requires is to be sent to the ECB's academy at Loughborough for any extra assistance."

Absolutely correct - so the obvious conclusion is that the ECB bowling coaching staff are not required. Why the ECB management have not themselves been able to make this logical step in thinking, even despite the recent regime change, is puzzling, presumably they are not minded to examine the evidence objectively.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2014, 5:46 GMT)

Brilliant to see yet another fast bowling battery forming. I hope England learn from their mistakes in the last two bowling batteries (Jones, Harmison, Flintoff, then Broad, Anderson et al) and have a decent backup being prepared and USED. And I hope they find a decent spinner very soon..........

Posted by paddles952 on (June 21, 2014, 4:00 GMT)

The two left arm slipperies, Reece Topley and Tymal Mills sound real promising too. Extreme pace is extremely important, and the true beauty of test cricket comes to the fore when guys are being bombed. Excellent stuff, eng--rrr- lann

Posted by dunger.bob on (June 21, 2014, 1:16 GMT)

It certainly seems as though England are gradually filling the gaps. Something I like about the seam attack is that it has nice variety. Anderson and his swing dovetails nicely with Broad and Plunkett's hit the pitch approach. All a bit different and all asking different questions of the batsmen. Nice.

At the risk of being a wet blanket, I've got to say there's one massive big caveat on all this. The thing is, with one or two very notable exceptions, the Sri lankans are completely at sea against decent pace and most especially bounce. I'm not trying to downgrade the bowling effort yesterday, I'm just saying there are better players of the quick stuff than the Lankans and that needs to be kept in mind when you see them hopping about like rabbits in the face of your fast bowling.

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