Cricket: A big test for the untried

Stephen Brenkley argues that despair at Darren Gough's injury is premature
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On paper the England seam bowling attack who will attempt to dismantle the cream of the West Indies batting this winter are suddenly nothing to write home about. The late withdrawal of Darren Gough with a long-term hamstring injury (and whatever the optimistic sound-bites emanating from Gatwick Airport, his chances of joining the tour at any point must be slender) appears to leave them seriously short of menace.

Looked at clinically, the seam department now consists of a spearhead whom the selectors were happy to omit when the going got tough in the Ashes series last summer, Andrew Caddick; a big-hearted veteran of 32 who was widely considered to be finished at international level, Angus Fraser; and three others with all of four Test caps between them, Dean Headley (three), Chris Silverwood (one) and Ashley Cowan (none). That line-up may not give the West Indies sleepless nights despite the debacle of the 3- 0 series defeat in Pakistan. Just the opposite perhaps.

But England's captain Mike Atherton was perfectly correct in pointing out during his eve-of-departure press conferencethat injury, especially to fast bowlers, was part and parcel of the game. He sounded prepared simply to get on with it. That England will miss Gough there is no doubt. Last summer against Australia he constantly looked a handful, he usually had his tail up and his rapid, swinging yorker continued to develop. Against that, his 16 wickets in the series cost more than 30 runs each and England won at The Oval without him.

Caddick, in any case, has grown to look the part of a genuine Test bowler as his eight wickets in that match and 24 in the rubber altogether helped to demonstrate. His hangdog diffidence may be an odd contrast with Gough's natural exuberance but he has an admirable determination. Between five draining Tests he still bowled some 500 overs for Somerset last summer and only the leg- spinner Paul Strang delivered more overs in the whole season.

If Fraser cannot truly be expected to be wheeled out for the whole Caribbean series, a Test or two is now entirely possible and his unerring accuracy has timeless merits which the West Indies batsmen know all about.

As for the tyros, they have everything to prove. Headley bowled well enough against Australia to suggest that his Test debut had been too long delayed. If he was marginally more effective against left- handers, then West Indies have some of those. It was always going to be a learning tour for Cowan; now he simply has to learn more quickly. As for Silverwood, Gough's replacement, he exhibited his mettle last season. At its outset he was tired from his first England senior tour and according to old hands had developed a technical flaw. But he worked his way through it and by the end turned in a tour de force performance against Kent. Balance between seam and spin will be everything but England's attack may yet look more effective on the pitch than it does on the team sheet.