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July 18, 2008
Maybe the England selectors had got bored after naming the same side for six consecutive matches, but the upheavals for this contest beggar belief. Bringing back Andrew Flintoff, batting him at No. 7, and shifting an out-of-form Tim Ambrose up the order created enough uncertainties. Now Michael Vaughan will be throwing the new ball to a guy about whom, he admitted at the toss, he knows next to nothing.
It's probably a good job that Pattinson has replaced his Nottinghamshire team-mate, Ryan Sidebottom, and that Stuart Broad is also in the side. At least they are some familiar faces. Others in the team would never have met him until last night when he was summoned to cover for James Anderson. In the end, Anderson was passed fit but Pattinson still played, the selectors wanting the swing option instead of Chris Tremlett's hit-the-deck style.
Not that this tale needs any added quirkiness, but earlier this season - after Pattinson claimed eight wickets on his Championship debut - he was dropped by Nottinghamshire to make way when Sidebottom and Broad were briefly available. Now he replaces the one and is playing alongside the other.
His journey half-way around the world and back again began when he was six and his family emigrated from Grimsby to Melbourne. Pattinson played a number of seasons for club side Dandenong before, belatedly, being handed his chance by Victoria. But even then it wasn't as a first choice. He had to get past the well-known names of Shane Harwood and Dirk Nannes. David Hussey, at the time Nottinghamshire's overseas player, recommended him to Mick Newell on the strength of his British passport and the rest is now history.
What this says about England's selection policy is unclear. On the one hand they have harked back to the horses-for-courses picks that Headingley has produced in the past. Kabir Ali, Mike Smith, Martin Saggers and Neil Mallender (the fourth umpire in this Test) have all been selected for Leeds because of their ability to swing the ball. Try naming England's attack the last time they played South Africa at Headingley. Yes, alongside Flintoff and Anderson they really did include Ali, Martin Bicknell and James Kirtley. Last year, Sidebottom was intended as yet another such selection. But instead he claimed eight wickets against West Indies and his career has since gone from strength to strength. But he's an exception, and also had a decade-long career behind him.
The more significant point is the number of players whom Pattinson has leapfrogged to claim this debut, in particular Matthew Hoggard who must now fear his Test career is finished. If he couldn't earn a recall on his home ground, in overcast swinging conditions, then he probably never will. Reports this season are that he has lacked nip, but his haul of 25 wickets at 23.76 is not a million miles behind Pattinson's 29 at 20.86 - a clutch of which have come at swing-friendly Trent Bridge.
"At the moment I am looking at it as though it is [finished]. I have been through all the emotions and more since the end of the New Zealand series," Hoggard told Test Match Special. "I am not holding my breath. It would have been lovely to have played a home Test match in front of my home crowd.
"When I was overlooked for the first Test [at home to New Zealand] I thought the writing was on the wall. I'm so proud of the career I have had. I hope it's not over - fingers crossed I get another chance. I was a little bit upset when I turned the TV on this morning, found out that Ryan Sidebottom had failed a medical and Pattinson had got the nod."
|When you speak to him he's got a broad Australian accent and because he's new over here we thought he was on a Kolpak, but obviously not Matthew Hoggard on Darren Pattinson|
The other man who has been battling for a recall since the winter, Steve Harmison, also has impressive numbers with 37 wickets at 22.54, which makes him the joint second-highest wicket-taker in first-class cricket this season. However, for the same reason that Tremlett was overlooked, Harmison's style of bowling probably counted against him. Simon Jones would have been a popular choice, but the selectors are keen to take an ultra-cautious approach with his reintegration.
None of this should be seen as a slight on the man himself. All Pattinson has done is run in and take wickets and there is no denying that his style can be successful in these conditions. But it would be a depressing thought if there isn't an English bowler, who has learnt his game in this country, that could have been found.
"I honestly thought [he] was Australian," Hoggard added. "When you speak to him he's got a broad Australian accent and because he's new over here we thought he was on a Kolpak, but obviously not. You've got other people who have been stalwarts and put in the years in county cricket and have performed over a number of years but you've got to look for the future and the here and now.
It's a good thing that Vaughan lost the toss because at least it allowed Pattinson some time to acquaint himself with the dressing room, as opposed to Alton Towers, which was his intended destination today, but it's hard not to believe that someone like Hoggard would have got more than three overs. If Pattinson performs and continues his form England will feel justified in their decision, yet what price on another player joining the one-Test wonder club from a Headingley Test? After an easy few months, the selectors have left themselves open to some tough questions.