Cricket: Spin given a tandem ride

Henry Blofeld at The Oval studies the bowling options adopted by England
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The Independent Online
The Hard part about being a side who have been rejuvenated partly in body and greatly in spirit, and have had a good first day, is that they are in danger of being sharply criticised if each subsequent day does not go at least as well.

England will play 33 days' cricket against Australia this summer and if they have another half-dozen as good as these first two they will upset the odds. Mind you, Test matches are a world apart from one-day games.

There are going to be many unglamorous days of hard graft to come, where every run and every wicket must be fought for. If England can hold their own in these by playing tight and efficient cricket, they will be highly competitive all along.

The pitch at The Oval ensured that this was going to be a very different match to Headingley. Although there may have been a touch of moisture early on, it was essentially a flat, slow pitch much better suited to batting.

After their defeat on Thursday, the Australian batsmen trod delicately for the first half of their innings. They were obviously determined not to do anything remotely stupid. But, blocked in by good sensible bowling, they began to fret and as a result did some extremely stupid things.

At Headingley, we had seen how England's bowlers had thrived in helpful conditions and taken wickets. Now, they embarked on an efficient containing operation in vastly different conditions. The new-ball bowlers frustrated the openers, so much so that they ran themselves out. Then, after 17 overs, came conclusive proof of the change which has taken place in England's thinking.

The 18th over was bowled by Ashley Giles with his orthodox left-arm spin and for the 19th he was joined by off-spinner Robert Croft. In Thursday's opening match Croft had bowled a brilliant spell of 10 overs which had cost only 16 runs.

Atherton has hitherto been reluctant to bowl spinners in tandem. Now, for 12 overs Giles and Croft operated together. Croft was excellent - with his variations of flight, pace and spin - and he has developed a very good ball which floats on with his arm towards the slips. Giles also bowled well until he had two left-handers to cope with.

In Croft's fourth over, Steve Waugh played a careless forward stroke and the ball rolled back on to his stumps. In the next over Michael Slater, after being dropped at slip, set off for a silly run to cover and paid the penalty. As with Waugh, the dire need to score had clouded his judgement.

Spin will play an important part in England's progress this summer while, in less than a year, Croft, who is a formidable competitor, has already become one of the key players in the side.

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