England v South Africa, 2nd npower Test, Headingley, 2nd day July 19, 2008

England bowlers firing blanks

The dark, foreboding clouds that encircled Headingley during the final session could well have represented the feeling in England's bowling attack

Andrew Flintoff is already clocking up the overs on Test return, partly because he has looked the only threat with the ball © Getty Images
The dark, foreboding clouds that encircled Headingley during the final session could well have represented the feeling in England's bowling attack. Toiling through two days at Lord's for three wickets is one thing, but claiming one wicket in a day at Headingley really should set alarm bells ringing. This was meant to be the return of England's five-pronged firepower. Instead they misfired like a broken engine.

Whatever England's bowlers tried proved fruitless and their attack looked increasingly uninspired as Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers added an unbroken 179 with few concerns. There was precious little swing for any of the England bowlers as the sun broke through. Of more concern, though, was that there was precious little anything although Ottis Gibson, the bowling coach, continued to back his chargers.

"I thought we bowled well, like at Lord's," he said. "We beat the bat, even though we didn't create the chances. You can only do as much as conditions allow. We have tried to be aggressive at times, but just got nothing out of the surface. It's just not swung for us."

Only when Andrew Flintoff, who maintained impressive hostility, and James Anderson were in action did England look a genuine threat. Any thoughts that Flintoff's workload maybe managed on his return to the Test side were banished as he racked up 28 overs. "He's bowling too much," warned his former Lancashire and England coach David Lloyd on Cricinfo Talk. "I'd be really worried, you have a lad who's coming back. He's in a five-man attack and two are proving ineffective. He's racking up the overs."

However, Gibson played down the fears that Flintoff is being pushed too hard. "I suppose because of the injuries that Freddie has had you would think it's a concern, but he's been doing his stuff at Lancashire and trying to stay on the park," he said. "Obviously he has bowled quite a few overs now, but if we didn't think he was up to it I imagine he wouldn't be bowling that many overs. It's something we have to continue to monitor, we don't want to bowl him into the ground, but he's come through very well today."

When the second new-ball was taken it was in the hands of Anderson and Flintoff, a demotion for Darren Pattinson after his three-over opening spell yesterday. The bewilderment over Pattinson's selection wasn't eased by the way Vaughan handled him. He was the fourth bowler used during the morning session and, although he bagged his first Test wicket with a low full toss, he looked every inch a bowler who has been flattered by county cricket. "It's been a tough day for him," admitted Gibson. "Obviously it's a great occasion for him to make his debut for England, but all in all a tough day, not just for him but for all the bowlers.

Gibson, although not involved in the selection process, tried to explain why a man with 11 first-class games had been chosen ahead of the likes of Matthew Hoggard, Chris Tremlett and Steve Harmison. "We've been watching him since the start of the year with Nottinghamshire," he said. "We've got the likes of Kevin Shine and the other selectors who go out watching county cricket every week and reports coming back have been quite good. We looked at the situation knowing the conditions and went with him. But conditions haven't really favoured him, therefore he, like everyone else, has found it quite difficult to get wickets."

Both Hoggard and Harmison have spoken out over the past two days over their continued exclusion, Hoggard admitting he was "a bit upset" when he heard the news and Harmison adding that it doesn't show much faith in county talent. "I haven't spoken to Harmy. I see him a lot because we still have good contact," said Gibson. "We are monitoring everyone else, the likes of Simon Jones we know exactly what he is doing and the same with Harmy and Hoggy. It just came down to looking around the country and who's been bowling well."

This wouldn't be the first time that selectors have been duped by county success - and at least Pattinson avoided the fate of Mike Smith in ending wicketless on Test debut at Headingley - but the difficult part to comprehend is that they didn't have to gamble this way. Even if they'd selected the likes of Hoggard or Harmison, then dropped them again straight away when Ryan Sidebottom recovers, they wouldn't have faced the criticism which is already heading their way.

Adding to England's problems is that Pattinson wasn't the only member of the attack to struggle. Stuart Broad's lack of wickets continued, he has two in the series and just 18 in his Test career so far, while Monty Panesar was dominated by Prince. Panesar has plenty of credit in the bank, but Gibson admits that Broad is starting to feel the pressure over not registering a major haul.

"We aren't really concerned because we know over time that Stuart will develop into a fantastic Test bowler. He's not getting wickets, but not doing much wrong. I can tell he's getting a little frustrated and essentially he'll be judged on how many wickets he takes for England. He needs to keep his spirits up, Test cricket is tough. The last couple of games have been tough, we need to see how he'll respond. So far it's been positive, he's taken it on the chin." For England's sake, tomorrow would be a good time for Broad to break his drought.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo