NZ Select XI v England XI, Dunedin February 28, 2008

England ponder their options


Steve Harmison had a tough opening day, conceding nearly five runs an over © Getty Images
 

England's coach, Peter Moores, was left with plenty to ponder at the end of a troubling first day at the University Oval in Dunedin. After watching his probable Test batting line-up crumble for 131 in a mere 40.1 overs, there was little solace to be found in the efforts of his bowlers, who struggled for rhythm against a strong opposition, and conceded a lead of 46 with six wickets still standing at the close.

"In general we played a bit loose and we paid the penalty for it," said Moores at the close of play. "There is not much time now, they have got one more innings and they have got to make the most of any time they get out there. It's all about getting into that Test-match tempo and getting into that way of playing."

Of particular concern is the form of Andrew Strauss, who was dropped from the Test squad for the tour of Sri Lanka before Christmas. He has since been earmarked for the pivotal No. 3 position when the first Test gets underway at Hamilton next week, but with nine runs in two innings on the tour so far, there can be no guarantees that he will hold off the challenge of Owais Shah, who top scored with 96 in the two-day practice match earlier in the week.

"We're still trying to finalise our team," said Moores. "We've had Owais with us for quite a long time, but we've not seen much of Andrew. Fortunately he got a hundred in his last game for Northerns last week, but he's got to do the work to put his name in the hat. We've got an idea of our team, but this was a chance to look at our options, and we put a side out that gives us an opportunity to look at players."

One unexpected selection was Chris Tremlett. He had not been included in the original Test squad, but was kept on as cover after the one-dayers when Steve Harmison's arrival had to be delayed to allow for the birth of his new child. He was given his chance in the starting line-up when Ryan Sidebottom sustained a grade one tear to his left hamstring. "While we've still got niggles we want to keep Tremlett on, because it's obviously a long way to ship someone in," said Moores. "He has a chance [for the first Test], and he wouldn't have played in this match if he wasn't in the frame. Places are still up for grabs in the bowling department, and we'll take as long as we need to take to identify what our best team is."

That best team need not necessarily include Harmison. Not for the first time, and presumably not for the last, he produced an enigmatic day's work, returning the unremarkable figures of 1 for 59 from 12 overs. "Steve's had a challenging 12 months," said Moores. "Today he bowled better, but he's still not where he wants to be. He needs to find rhythm and consistency, which he was starting to find at the end of the West Indies series [in June]. But then he got himself injured through no fault of his own and that put him back.

"At the moment, we are very conscious he needs to get outside and bowl because he's not hitting his straps," said Moores. "Physically he's fit, but Steve will admit he needs to bowl to get into rhythm, at the moment he's not had much bowling." With Stuart Broad and James Anderson both waiting in the wings for their opportunities, Harmison will need to find his form soon. "We have other bowlers who are exciting cricketers," said Moores, "and it's a fair scrap to see who gets the Test spot."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo