Brown swings into favour
It is not often that England's selectors turn towards the unfashionable in order to bolster their side, particularly after the settling effect of a series win. However, perhaps mindful of the lack of penetrative swing among the pace bowlers, that is precisely what they have done by picking Simon Brown, Durham's left-arm opening bowler, for Thursday's first Test against Pakistan.
Casting their eyes North-eastwards was perhaps the only surprise in an otherwise predictable selection meeting that saw Nick Knight recalled, though only as cover for Nasser Hussain, whose injured finger is still causing concern. Graeme Hick survives, but with the Sussex leg-spinner Ian Salisbury again included, there is no place for Min Patel or Middlesex's Phil Tufnell as England once again go to Lord's relying on seam rather than spin.
"We are not unduly worried about playing two left-armers," Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, said. "We have thought about it and they are two different types of bowler. Brown certainly swings it more than [Alan] Mullally and we could bowl them at different ends without it being a problem."
Recognition has been a long time coming for Brown, now in his fourth season for Durham. Having previously spent four lean years with Northamptonshire, he has since become a model of consistency, twice topping the 50-wicket mark since his departure.
In truth, as this season's leading wicket-taker with 56 victims, his selection ought to surprise no one, and his ability to consistently swing the ball into right-handers has long been an asset lingering in the minds of the selection panel. As a native of Sunderland, his selection will at least give Durham's beleaguered supporters an excuse to crack open a case of brown ale.
But at the age of 27, he is no longer a promising youngster, though with 435 first-class overs in the bag already this season - an amount only Tufnell has topped - he retains both an exuberance and a work-rate that would shame most younger men.
In that respect he is similar to the Essex left-arm swing bowler and stalwart JK Lever. Like Lever, Brown may find he is destined to be stuck in the limbo land that exists between Test and county level, where his ability to swing the ball certainly brings him wickets, though at a relatively expensive cost. As many of England's swing bowling hopefuls have found, a swinging half-volley at Test level is nowhere near as lethal as its counterpart around the shires.
Having bruised his foot missing a yorker against Worcestershire, he is one of three players, along with Chris Lewis (strained groin) and Hussain, who are currently nursing injuries. Lewis, who injured his groin while trying to make his ground batting, is thought not to be serious, but as no one can be sure, least of all the player himself, Darren Gough remains on standby lest the shiny-headed one decides to take another sabbatical.
Hussain, despite oxygen tents and the urgings of a nation, is even less certain to play, and his finger was still too sore to be risked yesterday in Essex's Sunday League game against Nottinghamshire. It means that unless Hussain makes significant improvements over the next three days, Knight will return to open the batting with Atherton, with Alec Stewart dropping to No 3.
However, with Mark Ealham continuing at No 6, England will be facing potentially one of the most lethal bowling attacks in world cricket without an extra batsman. It is a position Ray Illingworth has wanted all along, but with Graeme Hick out of sorts, it is a bold risk to take in the first of a three-Test series and one the selectors probably would not have been taking had Hick not scored a big hundred last week.
Even so, unless Hick is battling with demons more serious than those usually found within sport, his repayment for their loyalty is long overdue and, depending on his state of mind, he could be either at the end of the batting or the beginning of the tail, particularly if Wasim and Waqar are able to legally achieve their usually lethal reverse swing.
Mind you, with the inclusion of Salisbury, England's batting continues to lengthen and although the pitch at Lord's traditionally offers little help for the spinner, Salisbury's wickets ensured a tense finish the last time these two teams met at HQ. On that occasion he dismissed Javed Miandad and Salim Malik in rapid succession as England narrowly failed to win one of the most gripping matches of recent years.
ENGLAND (v Pakistan, first Test, Lord's, 25 July): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt) age 28 caps 59, A J Stewart (Surrey) 33 55, N Hussain (Essex) 28 10, G P Thorpe (Surrey) 26 29, G A Hick (Worcestershire) 30 45, M A Ealham (Kent) 26 1, R C Russell (Gloucestershire, wkt) 32 47, C C Lewis (Surrey) 28 30, D G Cork (Derbyshire) 24 13, A D Mullally (Leicestershire) 27 3, I D K Salisbury (Sussex) 26 7, N V Knight (Warwickshire) 26 3, S J E Brown (Durham) 27 0.
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