England A v Sri Lankans, Worcester, 1st day May 4, 2006

Lewis adds to Sri Lanka's batting gloom

England A 96 for 2 (Key 46*, Joyce 24*) trail Sri Lankans 179 (Dilshan 47, Lewis 6-49) by 83 runs

Jon Lewis appeals on his way to 6 for 49 © Getty Images
Angus Fraser was not the cheeriest operator at the best of times. But little got him grumbling like the idea of expensive-but-supposedly-threatening "wicket-taking bowlers". "I always thought it was just an excuse to bowl expensive crap," he once harrumphed.

Fraser's fellow seamer Jon Lewis could be forgiven a grumble in sympathy. Playing for England A at sunny Worcester Lewis today whipped out six of Sri Lanka's expected Test line-up, for 49 runs. Yet hardly anyone expects him to play in the first Test at Lord's next week.

A late call-up, Lewis only featured because the younger and more glamorous Sajid Mahmood was being hidden from the Sri Lankans ahead of an anticipated Lord's debut.

Lewis's first-class average is 26; Mahmood's 31. It is a classic example of the division of bowlers in the minds of many fans and some selectors into the workhorse and the thoroughbred (the Frasers of this world might say workhorse and show-pony). Their assumption is that that Test cricket requires the indefinable 'something' - pace or `magic' - that only the thoroughbred provides, no matter how inferior his figures at a lower level.

Which is part of the reason Lewis has never won a Test cap, despite 12 years of shining county figures. He managed three one-day internationals last summer "but at the end of last season the selectors said I didn't have enough pace to go to the subcontinent," he says. The feeling is that his age - 31 in August - also counts against him. And with consistency of selection a mantra there is little chance of a workhorses-for-courses pick.

But is the prevailing wisdom really true? Take Fraser - the archetypal workhorse - versus Shoaib Akhtar, the archetypal "wicket-taker". Fraser took 177 Test wickets at 27, only marginally higher than Shoaib, whose 165 wickets have come at 25. Nor did Fraser lose his zip on pitches without sap. In Australia he had 29 wickets at 32. Shoaib has 17 at 43. And another man who bowls in the late 70s mph has made a more than decent career - Chaminda Vaas averages 28 in Test matches and here nipped out Alastair Cook for nought.

All of which suggests the picture is not black and white. "The standard of county cricket is very high at the moment," Lewis continued. "I think the guys who've played county cricket and gone straight into the England side have done particularly well over the past two years. The standard of county cricket is excellent and if you do well in that then you deserve to get a chance.

"I feel like I could do a job anywhere," he continued. "I'm happy bowling on any sort of wicket, I'm not just an early-season bowler in England. I feel like I'm confident bowling anywhere at any time and that I can get the best players out. But it's obviously up to the selectors to pick the side and if they don't pick me that's their prerogative."

Today he gave them another jab in the ribs, as Sri Lanka tumbled to 179 on a true-enough pitch. Bowling on a dinner-plate sized spot outside off stump, Lewis simply waited for the ball to move off the seam or in the air, which happened fairly often, or for the batsman to do something daft, which happened seldom. Four of his victims were caught in the cordon, one was lbw, one bowled. After removing the top four, Lewis came back after lunch to end a threatening partnership of 95 between Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chamara Kapugedera.

Still if 'workhorse' cricketers think they're underappreciated it's nothing compared to retired ones. "Did you ever play for England?" Derek Pringle was asked by two young lads today. Yes, he politely explained. Were you, they continued, eyeing Pringle's 6ft-and-plenty frame, a wicketkeeper?

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer