Saker rates attack as good as great Australians
David Saker, the England bowling coach, has said England's bowling attack is "as good as" the great Australian attack that dominated world cricket for more than a decade.
Saker, the 46-year-old Australian, was appointed to the England role in April 2010. Before that, however, he had played with and against some of Australia's finest cricketers as a fast bowler with Victoria and Tasmania. He was also assistant coach of the Victoria side that lifted two Sheffield Shield titles and of the Delhi Daredevils side that played in the 2009 Champions League. He is, therefore, well placed to offer informed views on the subject.
"We should be saying our group is as good as them," Saker said. "You can compare them. The Australians were stand-out bowlers, a great group for a long time and they also had a world-class spinner. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in tandem were amazing, but I have seen some spells from Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann that have been just as good or better at times. It's important we don't forget the ability of Swanny when he comes in around the three quicks. That's really important.
"McGrath was the stand-out in that group but they had Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Andy Bichel, too: they were all fantastic bowlers. It's a bit like when Jimmy and Swann bowl together - it is not unlike McGrath and Warne at times. There is so much pressure on the batsmen.
Craig McDermott's departure from Australia's bowling coach role has created a vacancy back in Saker's home country, but there appears little chance of him being persuaded to leave the England job such is his admiration for their talent.
"In Sri Lanka, there were a couple of times, especially late on day four in the second Test, those two reminded me so much of McGrath and Warne. They put so much pressure on the Sri Lanka batting group and the wickets fell. They also have the back-up of some really good quicks as well, which is nice to have."
That 'back-up' may have an opportunity in the next Test. With England having secured a series-clinching victory over West Indies at Trent Bridge, England are considering resting James Anderson and, perhaps, Stuart Broad, and allowing Steven Finn and Graeme Onions an opportunity to adapt to Test cricket. While Saker understands that Anderson and Broad will be keen to play in Birmingham, he believes that England's strength in depth is such that even if they missed the Test, the quality of the attack would hardly be diminished.
"There's no doubt that the likes of Anderson and Broad will want to play as it gives them more chance of taking Test wickets. But if they have a Test off here and there, in my opinion, it probably gives them the chance to play longer. Those wickets can be picked up later because their careers will be longer. So there are two ways of looking at it.
"We have a lot of hard cricket ahead, Tests and one-dayers, and we need to make a decision for the good of English cricket. All our bowlers at Trent Bridge normally play in all three forms of the game so we have to be mindful of trying to give them a rest. But we also have to be mindful that nobody really wants to give up their place, which is fair enough, they are very proud of playing for their country. We have to assess that closely.
Glenn McGrath: 563 at 21.64
Brett Lee: 310 at 30.81
Jason Gillespie: 259 at 26.13
Shane Warne: 708 at 25.41
"If Finn and Onions were to play, I don't think we would lose too much. That's the beauty of it. Obviously, you would lose your top two bowlers, but the quality of the guys coming in is high. They will step up and do a great job. We showed that in Australia when we lost Broad and then Finn lost his spot. A lot of people were very dubious about whether we had the cover but we did. That proved the group of six or seven bowlers can all do a job if they get the opportunity.
Steven Finn has made no secret of his frustration at not being able to force his way back into the line-up and Saker appreciates that waiting on the sidelines can be tough when a bowler feels in good form.
"I'm sure Finn is very frustrated," he said. "The selectors pick the best team to try to win a game but I'm sure Finn will get his chance. He is still young. He is very exciting and his one-day form over the last 12-18 months has been outstanding. He will have a lot of cricket ahead of him. In an ideal world, we would love to get him in. But we have three fast bowlers doing a really good job."
Saker has been particularly impressed with the bowlers' ability to adapt to conditions as required. England were anticipating being able to utilise green wickets and conventional swing in the Test series against West Indies. Instead, however, they have been confronted with two slow, low wickets and conditions that have offered little assistance.
"The wickets have probably been flatter than we are used to in England," he said. "In that sense, it was really good that we took 20 wickets in each match. At times, it was really difficult because the batsmen dug in - particularly Chanderpaul and Samuels. We found it hard to dismiss them. I was really proud of the way the bowlers kept slogging away and got the breakthroughs. The reverse swing late on day three at Trent Bridge helped us out a bit as well. And the DRS helps as well with the lbws. The boys were outstanding. We applied a lot of pressure.
"This group is very skilful. What they do really well is assess conditions quickly. They will see if it is swinging and, if so, they will stick to our original plans. If it is not doing that, they will come up with some other plan. They are very good at talking out in the middle. Stuart and Jimmy are very good at that and they pass on that message to the rest of the group. To be able to bowl conventional swing and they say 'this is not going to work' and then switch to reverse and attack in different ways - that is a huge weapon to have."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo