Age no barrier as Lewis proves his worth

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The Independent Online

The selection of Jon Lewis for his first cap ahead of the pacier, and younger, Sajid Mahmood of Lancashire might have raised a cheer. After all, the Gloucestershire bowler had been 12th man five times and there were many who would have felt he deserved his first cap.

He was in no doubt. "Every time I have been in the 12 I have expected to play," Lewis said after picking up his first three Test wickets. And he explained the reason for his selection over Mahmood: "The selectors felt that a swing bowler would be better than an out-and-out fast bowler, and, anyway, I am not just a swing bowler. I feel I can get wickets on any pitch. I can change my pace and use the conditions to suit me."

At 30 years and 280 days the bulk of his cricketing future is behind him, and a random sample of England pace bowlers who have made their debuts in their 30s reveals that just one of them, Peter Lever, got into double figures in Test caps. In the 17 Tests he played between 1970-71 and 1975 Lever, who was 30 years and 85 days on debut, claimed 41 wickets at a modest average of 36.8.

The most recent England debutant, Martin Saggers, was 31 years and 159 days when he played the first of his three Tests, almost three years ago in Chittagong against Bangladesh in the second Test. His England career ended the following season after playing in the second and third Tests against New Zealand, leaving him with overall figures of seven wickets at 35.29. At least Saggers was on the winning team every time.

Lewis, the 634th England player, made an immediate impact, by taking a wicket in his first over. There must be something about the Sri Lankans that appeals to the Aylesbury-born bowler. Just a month ago, when opening the bowling for England A against the Sri Lankans, Lewis struck with his first ball in the first innings and his fourth ball in the second. Each time the victim was the opener Michael Vandort. Yesterday Lewis completed an odd little hat-trick against his "rabbit", bowling him off an inside edge with his third legitimate ball.

"It certainly helped my confidence to see a guy I had got twice before facing my first over," he said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. There were a few butterflies. I found out I was playing this morning, although I did get a bit of a nod last night."

Lewis was quick to deflect talk away from his debut and praise England's captain Andrew Flintoff. "He bowled very fast. And when he charges in everyone else goes up a gear. He really leads from the front."

That was a view shared by the Sri Lanka wicketkeeper, Kumar Sangakkara, who said: "When the going was tough England turned to Freddie and he has the confidence to say, 'I can do this'. It was a great spectacle to see him steaming in looking for wickets. He was the pick of the bowlers."

As for the tourists' batting, which was once again redeemed somewhat by the tail-enders, Sangakkara said: "We seem to be making the same mistakes we made in the first two Tests. We do not need the bottom order to show the top order how to bat."

Moment of the day

* No bowler forgets his first Test wicket but most have been made to wait longer than Jon Lewis. With his third legitimate ball, an inswinger, he defeated Michael Vandort and uprooted his leg stump. Lewis was mobbed by his team-mates and the pictures catching the moment will hang proudly at his home.

Shot of the day

* Muttiah Muralitharan has figured prominently in this spot as a bowler, but yesterday the controversial Sri Lankan spinner played an extraordinary shot off the England debutant Jon Lewis that flew high over the square-leg boundary for six. It was hard to work out who was more amazed, the batsman or the bowler.

Ball of the day

* Mahela Jayawardene will consider himself slightly unfortunate to receive excellent deliveries in the first innings of consecutive Tests, but there was little he could do about the lifter from the England captain Andrew Flintoff that trimmed the outside edge of his bat and carried to the wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.

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