Blog by: Divyajeevan
It is already a well established fact that England is a method driven team. Any deviation from normalcy doesn’t sit well with Alastair Cook’s side.
Therefore, the English cricket followers let out a collective gasp when the home team did the unthinkable – blood in two debutants in the fifth Test at The Oval.
Even more surprising was that the hosts had picked the left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan to partner Graeme Swann, the first time England had opted for a two man spin attack in a home Test since the Cardiff Test in 2009.
Apparently, Chris Tremlett was all set to make a comeback into the playing XI in place of the injured Tim Bresnan – a like for like replacement, more suited to the English psyche – but the groundsmen decided to shave the grass on the eve of the Test match, thus leaving it devoid of any significant bounce or seam movement.
So, on a dry-ish looking pitch, going in with two spinners seemed a fair call.
But the move also meant that the winning combination was disturbed. The attack, which has thrice picked up twenty wickets in last four Tests, by the absence of just a single cog, looked out of shape.
England do not have an out and out attacking bowler like Dale Steyn in their ranks who can blow away the opposition batting on his own.
For all the dexterity that James Anderson and Stuart Broad possess, their scalps in unhelpful conditions are, to a large extent, a result of the pressure created on the batsman by not allowing them to break free. When there is no swing on offer, they rely on their unerring accuracy to tie the batsman down and force him to commit a mistake.
Bresnan too, doesn’t generate an obscene amount of sideways movement, but on the strength of his tight line and length, he has proven himself to be a useful ally to the new ball pair. His ability to tirelessly keep bowling in a tight channel ensures that the pressure is sustained.
Even though he hasn’t picked up a bagful of wickets to show for his efforts, his dismissals of Shane Watson and David Warner at crucial junctures triggered Australian collapses at The Lord’s and Chester-le-Street respectively. At The Oval, England didn’t have a bowler who could carry forward the good work Anderson and Broad did in the opening hour.
England’s matters were further hampered by the fact that Kerrigan showcased the worst case scenario of stage fright. Half trackers, long hops and chin high full tosses were dished out with a disturbing regularity as Australia, particularly Shane Watson, plundered away easy runs. The torrent of runs from his end, to some degree, rendered the likes of Anderson, Broad and Swann ineffective.
It is no secret that only due to Monty Panesar’s off-field antics, the 24-year-old’s career got fast tracked. His first class record (164 wickets at 26.5) shows he is a much better bowler than what his figures (0 for 53 in 8 overs) in this Test would have us believe.
But as Watson showed the world, he probably isn’t ready for the highest level yet. Such was his chastening that Cook didn’t call him into the attack on the second day.
England will have to be careful that they don’t go the Australian way in their treatment of the spinner and discard him on the evidence of just one bad Test. It will be a test of character for both Kerrigan and the English selectors as they decide the way forward from here.
In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned the need of an all-rounder in the English attack and Chris Woakes seems to be a man to fit the bill. Despite being targeted by Watson early in his spell, he stuck to a wicket-to-wicket strategy and played the role of a containing bowler reasonably well on an unresponsive track.
But to use him as the third seamer, especially in flat and dry conditions, would be asking too much of the young man. Couple of months later, the two teams will again fight for the urn on the hard Australian pitches where more emphasis will be on pace and bounce and there Woakes can be, at best, expected to play the fifth bowler’s role. Also, how he performs with the bat will be a major factor in deciding the future course of his career.
Though England are still miles away from the Australian total, with their dour approach, they have managed to reach a relatively safe position in the match and a draw seem imminent.
But there are few sub-plots remaining to be unfolded over the next two days and the one followed with keen interest will be to see if Kerrigan can redeem himself against a vulnerable Aussie line-up on a crumbling pitch in their second innings.
But then, given that Australia will be the only team pressing hard for a win, will the English skipper have enough confidence in the left-arm spinner to give him a decent spell in Australia’s second innings?