5 January 1999

Headley a handful on attack

By Mark Nicholas

THIS is breathless, gripping cricket day after day. England are closer to Australia than they thought they were, which has made for more even sessions of play and made for matches to savour.

If Test cricket was always as it has been here in Sydney - and in Melbourne, too - the limited-overs game may never have made it to the shelves.

Credit goes to England for their character-riddled comeback, credit to Australia for their naturally attacking style which allows the matches their flow.

Halfway through the Melbourne Test I wrote that England had bowled quite well rather than especially well, as Australian pundits had suggested. The reason for this was that they had not committed the Australian batsmen to play enough, most obviously against the new ball, and therefore been generally economical rather than always threatening.

This has not been the case since. In fact, the English bowlers deserve the loudest cheer for the way in which they have changed their tactic of banging the ball into the pitch and, instead, have been prepared to bring their opponents forward and encouraged them to drive.

The difference in the second innings in Melbourne was remarkable. It has continued at the Sydney Cricket Ground and look at the results!

It is obvious that we must herald Darren Gough for his fantastic attitude. He is England's brightest star, their foremost personality. It is less obvious to blow the trumpet for Dean Headley - for one thing he is not so glamorous - but we should remember that Headley was not certain to be picked for the tour; players such as Andrew Caddick and even Ed Giddins were touted.

He did not play in Brisbane, or in Perth, where the lively pitch would surely have suited him, but still he has taken 19 wickets in the series. More and more it seems as if he is a "streak" bowler capable of the extraordinary and the mundanely ordinary in the same match.

The lacklustre patches do him no service and lead selectors to mistrust him. If he could eradicate them and also do away with his tendency to over-theorise, which hinders his basic ability to bowl fast and straight, he would be a regular selection.

Most sensational yesterday, as during those thrilling, dying moments in Melbourne, was that he consistently attacked the stumps. It wasn't quite Stathamesque but it wasn't half bad.

The bouncer has been an occasional surprise rather than a macho expression; few balls can be safely left alone and Headley's talent for a hint of late swing, both ways, has batsmen uncertain of their footwork.

He is quicker than he looks and hits the bat harder than it would appear from afar. On the speedometer, he reached 147kph - Gough, the fastest bowler on either side, has not pushed it beyond 149.

Headley bowled a marvellous spell in the middle of yesterday afternoon just at the moment when England most needed it.

In among it was their plan for Steve Waugh and the plan worked perfectly - more credit to Headley for implementing it. It was cracking stuff that warmed the heart with hope.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)