Today’s post is more than a little late but we all know absence merely makes the heart grow fonder, so you’ve probably all just been salivating awaiting the arrival of your daily Textual nugget, here to enrich your meagre existence. You’ve probably been lost all morning wondering what to do with yourselves, unable to contain your excitement over what Mr President might be talking about today. Unfortunately for you, it’s cricket.
Despite England’s comfortable innings victory over New Zealand there is still a lot of work to do if they’re to be prepared for the onslaught they’re likely to face from South Africa later this summer. They possess a potent seam bowling attack with genuine pace and their batsmen will not simply crumble in the face of fast-medium swing bowling alone, and as they showed in India, they’re more than competent against spin too.
On the batting side much has been made of the recent domestic form of Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara but bringing either back against the the pace battery at Graeme Smith’s disposal would be a mistake. Although neither of them has really been given a fair chance to stake a claim at Test match level, a series against a team of South Africa’s calibre is not the time to experiment with unproven players. The time to try them out was this series against a weak New Zealand side and England missed the boat.
No, if changes are going to be made for the series against the Proteas it must be with players who have shown their capabilities at Test match level and there really aren’t any in terms of the batting. Thus England, who didn’t exactly hammer the Kiwis as they should have, will need to ring a few changes in the bowling department that has actually done rather well as a unit. That is where the headache lies for the selectors.
Before this series against New Zealand Anderson was the most susceptible bowler to being dropped on account of his inconsistency. On his day he’s capable of ripping through any batting lineup. Last summer he troubled all of the Indian batsmen and in particular got Sachin Tendulkar out on more than one occasion. Yet he’s also shown many times that he can be carted all over the park when he gets it a bit wrong.
Sidebottom showed in Sri Lanka that he’s a challenge even for the most accomplished stroke-makers, including the likes of Jayawardene and Sangakkara. On dead pitches he showed he doesn’t need swing to take wickets. Stuart Broad has a knack of taking crucial wickets at crucial times, and his batting gives England’s tail a much healthier look and seems to bring the best out of his partners. Crucially they’re bowling as a unit.
Jimmy picked up seven on day two but faded away on day three, yet just as he did, Stuart Broad chipped in to help mop up the tail with Sidebottom. Then in the second innings Sidebottom got six but Anderson and Broad also picked up wickets and they really are “sharing the burden”. Breaking this up would be a mistake, especially given how young the four of them (including Monty) all are. They’re here for a long time.
Yet England still lack the incisive and aggressive pace they will need to hammer home any advantageous positions against the South Africans. Sure Anderson and Sidebottom may pick up early wickets when it’s swinging but when it stops the Proteas have the batting to exploit England’s bowling far better than the Kiwis managed. On good pitches they need a 90 MPH bowler, something that was abundantly clear at Old Trafford during the New Zealand first innings when Ross Taylor was racking up his 150.
In India, where they go after the South Africa series, the pitches won’t offer too much, and the balls will stop swinging fairly quickly as they get roughed up on the abrasive and dusty surfaces. Reverse swing will come into play but it’s really at its most effective when bowled at high pace. The dead West Indies pitches will likewise also require someone who can bowl quickly and bowl reverse swing. Two names fit the bill.
Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff are both back bowling quickly and aggressively, but both have yet to prove they’ve got the fitness to last a five day game. However if both are fit only Flintoff really offers what’s needed. If England are going to make a change it’s got to be go with a five man attack capable of taking twenty wickets. Freddie’s batting may be on the decline but with Ambrose in the side it may be good enough.
Flintoff should come back at seven, with Ambrose moving up to six and one of Collingwood or Bell dropping out. Choosing which one, however, isn’t a particularly easy task, as a case can be made for either. Bell is the younger and would be seen as a long-term investment, yet we’ve seen with Strauss (and with Ganguly and Katich for India and Australia respectively) that sometimes dropping a player does them good.
Collingwood would give England an additional bowling option ensuring that in seam and swing-friendly conditions England wouldn’t have to overwork Flintoff. Indeed if Freddie is to be used at his best he’s got to be used sparingly in quick, sharp bursts designed to strike fear into the opposition and hopefully skittle a couple of wickets if he can.
Another reason to choose Collingwood would be the fact he’s proven he can score gritty runs when England need them most, whereas Bell’s hundreds have all come when England have been doing well as a unit. Both are good fielders. Collingwood has been fielding at slip recently, a position where he’s done ok without really excelling, and a position where Flintoff is a specialist. Bell’s a specialist close fielder at short leg which is a key position with both Monty and Sidebottom in the side. Could this decide it?
Whatever happens it’s clear England need a fully fit Freddie back in the side.
(A little off topic but don’t forget to vote for Mr President. Voting closes tonight.)