England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day June 20, 2014

Plunkett finds the shock factor

Liam Plunkett flogged himself into the ground at Lord's and did not have much reward to show for it, but on (new) home turf the ball was fuller and so was his wicket tally

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#politeenquiries: Does Liam Plunkett have a future in Test cricket?

Alastair Cook spent most of the time in the second Ashes watching Michael Clarke's never ending orgasm of delight. And at the end, as you might do in a rom-com set in Katz's Deli, he asked for what Clarke was having. He wanted a Mitchell Johnson.

Sport teams have quite a clear history in being beaten by a style or tactic, and then trying to replicate it themselves. It is how sport works. It is how music works. It is how movies works. It is how life works. This idea works. Let's do this idea.

So there was no real surprise that England would pick the closest thing to Mitchell Johnson they could find. Liam Plunkett. That is what we were told before Lord's. He was fast, he had been trained in the secret ways of Australian fast bowlers by Jason Gillespie. Andrew Gale had even used him like Johnson. And when he hit the pitch it was usually very short, with a field set for carnage.

But it did not really work. The pitch did not suit it. And Liam Plunkett also did not suit it.

His two wickets were when he bowled full. When he just continued punching the middle of the pitch he just bloodied his knuckles for no good reason. His pitch maps looked like he was trying to paint a stripe across the middle of the wicket. It was fast and accurate, but it was largely fruitless. They had picked a fast bowler, but by insisting he bowled huge long spells of short bowling they had turned him into a confused shire horse.

Three overs from the end of the Lord's Test, with Sri Lanka eight down, Plunkett was bowled ahead of Stuart Broad. When the ball was given back to Broad for the last over, it was because Plunkett had not looked like taking a wicket, and could not be trusted by Cook to deliver.

Today he could not stop delivering. His full swinging ball to Dimuth Karunaratne would have made the England coaching staff fill notebooks with joy. He was fast and full again to Mahela Jayawardene. Then followed it up with the short ball that Lahiru Thirimanne seemed shocked to see. And then followed it up with some good old fashioned bombing of the tail.

But there was also a full ball to Kumar Sangakkara that was probably caught behind, and no one appealed, reviewed or even really seemed to notice from England. A short-of-a-length ball that took off from the pitch, took the edge and then wedged itself into Prior's ribcage. And the short ball that Jayawardene hooked to a shocked leg slip.

By bowling his short ball less, Plunkett got more out of it. This pitch is not the WACA, or even Old Trafford, but Plunkett looked far quicker and scarier than the others, no matter his length. In using the short ball as an exclamation mark, instead of a comma, he made more of an impact. Plunkett outbowled them.

Plunkett has spent this time in the wilderness well. He has used it to become a beast of a man; he looks more light heavyweight than fast bowler. If the team bus ever breaks down, they would be fine getting Plunkett to drag it around town. This is essentially the same action he had when he was a whispy kid with a Test bowling average of 40 and hope in his heart. He has made it higher and stronger. On his own. Away from David Saker and the England machine.

Other than Plunkett's determination and hard work, it is the county system that England has often ignored of recent times that virtually put Plunkett back together again. Yorkshire, Gale and Gillespie found a fast bowler in 2012 that was not being used by his county and within a few months at their club they had him playing England Lions, and by the first Test of the following summer he was in the team.

Yorkshire might just have given England an old player their new era needs.

Jarrod Kimber was 50% of the Two Chucks, and is the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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  • Paul on June 21, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    @IndianInnerEdge: Plunkett was not picked for the 2013-14 Ashes series because he was simply nowhere near good enough. He'd had plenty of chances yet just got worse and worse. For Durham he was basically just free runs for the opposition batsmen.

    As you can tell, I had no time for him, but then I saw him at Taunton bowling for Yorkshire in their 4-day match against Somerset a couple of months ago and he was a revelation. Taunton is traditionally one of England's flattest wickets, but this guy was making a powerful Somerset batting line-up look nervy and hurried. It was the only time I have ever seen batmen look genuinely a little frightened at Taunton, and I've seen both Dale Steyn and Shoaib Akhtar rendered toothles there in recent years.

  • Vinod on June 21, 2014, 13:43 GMT

    Its bowlers like these which change the dimensions totally of the collective bowling attack...read Mitch, Malinga, Shane bond for NZ. He has pace and is going to be a handful for India as well, Cant believe Cook does not open with him....wonder why he was not picked for the down under ashes....Similar bowling action to a similar bowler from india - Umesh Yadav who i belive that the selectors in all their wisdom have not selected him for the England tests....oh for someone with real pace in an indian shirt....:) Meanwhile , all the best to Plunkett....good to see he has spent his time outside and really put in the hard yard to earn his place

  • Richard on June 21, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    "Plunkett has spent this time in the wilderness well. ... This is essentially the same action he had when he was a whispy kid with a Test bowling average of 40 and hope in his heart. He has made it higher and stronger. On his own. Away from David Saker and the England machine."

    So why do we need Saker?

  • John on June 21, 2014, 6:01 GMT

    I must admit at the start of the season I would not have had Liam Plunkett or Chris Jordan in my starting X1,but one has to give the selector's a tap on the shoulder for these selections.As mentioned by @ landl47 it appears that these Two can handle the bat but with respect to Sri Lanka their bowling attack is hardly in the Dale Steyn or Mitchell Johnson bracket so perhaps judgement on their batting prowess could be reserved to a later date,but as the saying goes you can only play against what is put in front of you. Liam Plunkett it appears has gone away and completely re-modeled his style through hard work on his own part and that of the Yorkshire Coaching Staff,it appears that both Yorkshire and England will hopefully now reap the benefits of all those Hours of hard work.

  • John on June 21, 2014, 5:31 GMT

    Interestingly, Plunkett is taking wickets but is the most expensive of the England bowlers. Where have we seen that before? Perhaps Steven Finn during the 2010-11 Ashes? Hopefully England have given up on the idea that you must "bowl dry" and wickets will present themselves. If the other bowlers are hard to get away then the one taking wickets will be the one to be attacked and that in itself can lead to more wickets. I don't think Finn should have been dropped then and hopefully Plunkett won't be now, assuming that he keeps taking wickets. He's not Mitchell Johnson but he's shown himself well worthy of selection and the England pace attack looks pretty decent right now.

  • John on June 21, 2014, 4:56 GMT

    Good effort from Plunkett today and taking a 5 wicket haul will have settled him down and given him confidence. At 29 he is at his physical peak and could have 3/4 years at his best still to come.

    There's no substitute for real pace and a quick bowler makes all the others better. He and Jordan are decent bats and good fielders, too. Good selection by England and I'm looking forward to seeing how they get on against India.

  • Roshan on June 20, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    Fantastic from Plunkett today. He's sort of brightened the day for English sports fans. He bowled dangerous lengths today too and his short ball was deadly. I hope we have found our MJ here.

  • Mark on June 20, 2014, 21:27 GMT

    I've been backing Liam Plunkett for years and am delighted to see him make a big impact. Interestingly, although the fastest of the attack, his pace was well down on Lords on the speed gun (was the calibration off, I wonder?) At Lords his fastest ball was around 95mph. Here he didn't even pass 92mph and a lot of his spell was under 90mph.

    At Lords he was being used as the enforcer to buy wickets for Broad and Anderson. Here he is being allowed to bowl as a genuine wicket-taker. It's nice to see a genuine quick in England colours. How we could have done with him and Chris Jordan last winter - I don't think that we would have seen any pitches tailor-made for the quicks.

  • Robert on June 20, 2014, 20:16 GMT

    I agree - particularly Gillespie has remoulded Plunkett so he is now approaching the bowler he always seemed to have the potential to be. The England set-up needs to take more notice of where cricketers actually learn their trade - the County circuit.

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