England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 1st day August 21, 2013

Kerrigan suffers on nightmare debut

Thrown in at the deep end and despite a promising record, Simon Kerrigan produced as wretched a performance as a specialist bowler has in Test cricket for many years

Like any cricket-mad boy, Simon Kerrigan would have dreamed of this day, the day of his Test debut, for much of his life. But in all his dreams and fantasies - even in his nightmares - he cannot have thought it would be like this. On the biggest stage, he fluffed his lines quite horribly, reducing a packed Oval to something approaching an embarrassed silence. It was painful to watch.

Kerrigan is better than this. Even if you dismiss the 48 first-class wickets at 21.56 apiece he has taken this season on the grounds that all but one were were claimed in Division Two of the Championship - and you shouldn't, it is the same division where Joe Root scored the runs that earned him selection - his record in the first division in 2011 and 2012 was impressive, with 68 wickets at a cost of 28.95.

He was magnificent in 2011. He only played four games and they were invariably on helpful wickets, but he bowled with pace and bite and ripped the ball with such energy that his body contorted with effort. He looked full of confidence and full of promise.

He was almost unrecognisable here. His run-up - such as he has one at present - was different, his bowling action was different and, most of all, he looked as nervous as Count Dracula's paperboy. Approaching the crease off a couple of slow paces, he hardly used his front arm, failed to complete his action with his left arm and barely pivoted his body as he has in the past. As a result, he landed his first few deliveries apologetically and without pace or spin. Shane Watson, no stranger to run famines, was not going to let such a feast go to waste.

Like any bowler, Kerrigan has been on the wrong end of fine batting before. Last season he was unfortunate enough to come up against Kevin Pietersen at his absolute best on a flat track in Guildford. Kerrigan suffered but he did not wilt. Even when Pietersen was thrashing him over trees and marquees, Kerrigan looked confident and competent.

That was not the case here. Here he looked diffident from the start. He didn't look as if he felt he belonged and he didn't look as if he felt he deserved it.

There was always a concern that Kerrigan might bowl a release ball an over - he is 24 and still learning his trade, after all - but instead he bowled four or five. Desperate long hops gave way to hideous full tosses as Kerrigan produced as wretched a performance as a specialist bowler has in Test cricket for many, many years.

James Anderson, a colleague at Lancashire, afterwards spoke warmly of the "quality bowler" who had been "fantastic for Lancashire for the last four years" but it will take more than kind words and encouraging slaps on the back for Kerrigan to bounce back from this. Like Bryce McGain, who did not bowl nearly this badly on his own chastening Test debut, he has found the world of Test cricket can be harsh, cruel and unforgiving. There is no guarantee of a happy ending.

As with any setback, it will be the way Kerrigan responds that may define him. He is not the first to endure a tough start to his Test career - Shane Warne conceded 1 for 150; Graham Gooch was out for a pair - and he could bounce back even later in the game. The pitch will certainly offer him more as the match progresses.

Or it may prove in time that Kerrigan simply lacks the heart for Test cricket.

That seems unlikely, though. He claimed five wickets on his first-class debut in 2010 and, as Lancashire fought for their first Championship title since the dawn of time - well, 77 years - in 2011, he raised his game in a way that suggests he revelled in the big occasion.

So something has gone wrong. Something has gone horribly wrong if Kerrigan can produce a performance so far below his best in the biggest game of his career to date, failing to do justice to his substantial talent.

Perhaps this call just came too soon. A couple of weeks ago, Monty Panesar was considered England's second spinner - he came close to playing in Manchester - and Kerrigan was continuing his development smoothly with Lancashire. He had played a couple of first-class games for the England Lions, but he had spent little time with the squad and will have not known too many of the senior players or staff. He was seen as one for the future.

While the likes of Root and Chris Woakes were given lengthy stints on tour with the full Test party before they were thrown into the fray, Kerrigan's selection harks back to the bad old days of English cricket when players were used and dropped with callous disregard for their long-term development. Many is the cricketer - be it Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash - who was ruined by such treatment.

Kerrigan's experience provides a reminder why the England management rarely experiment. It provides a reminder of the value of the Lions system, of development tours and age-group teams. It is because they have learned how important it is that players move into the England team feeling comfortable and confident in their surroundings and in their colleagues. While Panesar's odd behaviour can hardly have been predicted - had he not disgraced himself, Kerrigan would barely have warranted a mention in selection meetings this summer - there has been a collective failure in the set-up on this occasion and Kerrigan is as much a victim as anyone.

It is an irony that, on the day when they finally plucked up the courage to select five bowlers, England were effectively reduced to a four-man attack due to Kerrigan's capitulation. Certainly this was a day that will do nothing to convince the management to experiment more often. The last time England selected two debutants was against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2010 and it is notable that neither of them - Steven Finn and Michael Carberry - remains in the side. Carberry has still only played one Test.

Woakes' struggles were as nothing compared to Kerrigan's. He was largely unthreatening but, after an expensive first spell, he responded with some economical, mature bowling and was only denied a maiden wicket by a successful review of an lbw decision by Shane Watson. He may well be tarred with the same brush as Kerrigan but, on a desperately flat wicket, he produced a modestly respectable performance.

Whether he has the bite, as a bowler, to be an international allrounder remains to be seen, though. Pitches such as this are, pretty much, the norm in Test cricket these days and the prospect of Woakes featuring in a three-man pace attack in India or Australia remains unlikely.

But there will be beneficiaries of the debutants' struggles. For a start, it highlighted the valuable role performed by Tim Bresnan in recent Tests. His ability to retain control, to allow his colleagues to be rest and to supply tight spells and pick up the occasional wicket was sorely missed. It is not surprising that the England management remain hopeful that he will return in time to play a role in the Ashes series in Australia.

The day also provided a reminder of Panesar's skills. It is unthinkable that Panesar, whatever his faults, would have conceded 28 in his first two overs and he has never delivered such an array of long hops and full tosses. In contrast with the young pretender to his title as the best left-arm spinner in England, his skills were made to look far more refined and sophisticated. His transgressions may prove that much easier to forgive as a result.

Perhaps Chris Tremlett will have benefitted, too. It is just about possible that Tremlett would have found life in this pitch absent for his colleagues. But it is much more likely that he, too, would have found it slow and unhelpful. His reputation is unharmed by not playing. It remains the case that players' reputations often improve most when they are out of the side.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments