England's young fast bowlers May 10, 2007

Stepping into the size 13s

ESPNcricinfo staff
We've heard the names - Broad, Onions, Tremlett and the rest. But how do England's young fast bowlers shape up?

We've heard the names - Broad, Onions, Tremlett and the rest. But how do England's young fast bowlers shape up? Richard Rae investigates



Simon Jones' injuries have left a hole in the England attack which they have struggled to fill © Getty Images
England's 2005 Ashes success was founded on a disciplined and relentless pace attack. Their 2006-07 campaign floundered in the absence of one. Simon Jones was injured and Steve Harmison, James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood were inconsistent.

But one man's agony is another man's opportunity and as we hurtle with unseemly haste towards the first Test of the 2007 summer (which starts on May 17) there are a number of young - and not so young - quick bowlers vying for selection.

The first piece of good news is the recovery from knee surgery of Jones, who played a one-day warm-up for Glamorgan against Sussex at the start of April. "It's been a long, hard road but I've had to learn how to be patient," he says. "But though it might be tempting fate, I really can't see anything getting in the way now. The key for me now is just to bowl. It's all right feeling as fit as a marine, but the only way to really attune my body is to get through the overs. I've been off 18 paces in the nets, which isn't far off full pace, but I know I've got to take it carefully."

Jones admits he found it hard to watch the Ashes series, though not necessarily for the same reasons as the rest of the country. "It's not a case of thinking I might have made a difference, more that I love playing so much I find any watching incredibly frustrating. I'd be lying if I claimed I don't think about playing for England again, but I've been off the scene for long enough to know I've got a lot to do just to prove I'm available. If I can show I haven't lost anything by being away for so long, well, I'm only 28."

If the prospect of Jones's imminent return is encouraging, so too is the continued progress of Leicestershire's Stuart Broad and Graham Onions of Durham

If the prospect of Jones's imminent return is encouraging, so too is the continued progress of Leicestershire's Stuart Broad and Graham Onions of Durham. Members of the high-performance shadow squad which the Academy director Peter Moores took to Perth before the Ashes began, both also travelled to Bangladesh on the England A tour in the new year, where they spent long hours working with new Academy bowling coach Ottis Gibson.

Having played five one-dayers against Pakistan last year and then won a mid-tournament call-up to the World Cup, the 6ft 7in Broad is likely to play Test cricket this summer. Fast, aggressive and technically good, the 20-year-old shows no signs of being fazed by the increasing expectation, and while he acknowledges the benefits of a winter working on his game out of the media spotlight, he admits he was disappointed to miss out on a senior England call-up.

"I'd love to have played, especially after bowling in Perth, but being in Bangladesh taught me a lot about the importance of having some good variations up your sleeve," he said.



Stuart Broad is tipped to big things on the international stage © Getty Images
Four years older than the ebullient Broad, Onions is also a very different character. Last season was only his second on a first-team contract and after his last three Championship appearances of 2005 yielded a solitary wicket, few expected a return of 50 in 2006 - including perhaps the diffident Onions himself. He has a fluent, upright, whippy action to which he has added a yard of pace and improved control. He has also worked hard on the mental side of his game. "There's been a lot to take in, but the result is I feel I've got a better understanding of what I need to do, and keep doing, to keep improving. My self-belief is stronger now," he says.

Moores himself does not believe it is important for Broad or Onions to be tested internationally this summer. "They're still relatively inexperienced, but both did well in Bangladesh, which is encouraging because great bowlers have to have ways of being threatening when conditions aren't in their favour. The main thing is they are allowed to keep learning, keep progressing," he says.

Interestingly, Moores is concerned about the possibility of over-coaching. "There are refinements, in terms of coaching, but the basics don't change," he says. "I sometimes feel we can be over-technical. There are more structures and systems in place than ever before but we mustn't stifle what they've got in the first place. Players need to think and adapt and to remember that it's an art not a science."

Ian Pont, the Essex bowling coach and author of coaching manual The Fast Bowler's Bible, also takes issue with current thinking. "We work very hard on fitness but I don't think we bowl enough," he says. If only a certain FS Trueman were around to hear those words.

Richard Rae writes on cricket for The Guardian and the Sunday Times

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