The first test between England and South Africa ended yesterday, and despite England’s dominance over the first three days they were, yet again, unable to force a win at Lord’s. Whilst there is no doubt that the pitch did play a part (it’s the third draw in a row at Lord’s), with the Aussies due to tour next year there are serious questions to be asked of England’s current bowling attack.
Nobody can deny that they have been bowling well as a unit, the first time England have had a proper unit since the 2005 Ashes in fact. Yet the way they struggled to bowl out the Kiwis and failed to bowl out the Proteas doesn’t suggest they have it in them to bowl out the Aussies twice in a match, especially on a flat wicket like Lord’s.
Andrew Flintoff is the name on everyone’s lips and it’s not really a case of if he comes back into the set-up but who he comes in for. His ability to bowl with genuine pace, aggression and, crucially, reverse swing mean he will test any batsman on any surface, but his lack of form with the bat leaves some questions unanswered.
Can he bat at six is the most obvious one and the easy answer is that his current rival for that slot, Paul Collingwood, is hardly contributing big scores himself. Mr President is a big fan of Paul Collingwood and was, actually, advocating dropping Ian Bell before this test match for Flintoff but the latter turned the corner at Lord’s. Of course Collingwood could too, and that is why the selectors have a tough choice to make.
Do they give Paul more time to find his form or do as they did with Strauss and let him find it back at county level? Alternatively do they say to a young lad in Stuart Broad, who has consistently contributed at crucial times with bat and ball that he’ll have to make way for England’s talisman? Not only is he a big part of England’s future but if he were dropped the selectors would be taking a three-fold risk. Dare they?
Firstly they are risking setting back Broad’s long-term development. That’s the easy risk for them to take, though. More dangerous, however, is the risk that with Colly not making any runs, Freddie not either and Ambrose struggling too, England will look vulnerable from six down to eight. Worse yet, if Freddie were to break down again then England would end up with Collingwood bowling as a front line bowler.
Broad deals with both of these risks. His runs at eight mean that Freddie is free to just express himself and that may be the best way for him to find his form. Equally his bowling means England would, once again, have a five-man attack, which was the very foundation of their 2005 Ashes attack. Only arguably even more varied.
Sidebottom gives England a left-arm angle, Panesar is a more attacking spin bowler than Giles and whilst Anderson lacks the control of Hoggy, he’s quicker and can swing it both ways. If Broad can up his pace a fraction he’ll be a real handful (Harmison who?) and of course Freddie is, when fit, one of the best fast bowlers around.