Anderson can still be the future but Gough's glory is in the past

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In cricket's natural order, bowlers put in the hard work, fielders drop the catches and batsmen receive the honours. Glenn McGrath tried to amend the system in 2001 when he stood tall and held the ball high when he had taken a five-for. Makhaya Ntini did just this after claiming five wickets in England's first innings at Lord's.

Since the plight of the bowlers seems so unfair, sympathy accrues to them, but there are times when you have to be cruel to be kind. The truth is that England's bowling attack in South Africa's overwhelming 682 for 6 was woeful.

It was not uniformly so, but it would be a surprise to see Steve Harmison and Darren Gough performing in the Third Test at Trent Bridge, assuming alternatives such as Richard Johnson are fit. James Anderson will leave this game with a substantial question mark by his name, placed there principally by his coach. Ashley Giles's place would be in danger if there was anyone else. (He has taken 5 for 340 in 93 overs in the two Tests of this series so far.) Only Andrew Flintoff survived South Africa's record-breaking innings with some credit left in his account.

It is awful to contemplate what Michael Vaughan was thinking during his first 177 overs in the field as England captain. Yet only four weeks ago, the same bowlers mocked South Africa in the NatWest Series final at Lord's. England's expectations for the Test series were high. It has not just been Graeme Smith who has demonstrated that they now look laughably inflated.

James Anderson is the worrying case, and the interesting one. At the close on Friday he had taken 0 for 73 off 17 overs, and Duncan Fletcher had been uncommonly frank. At his press conference the England coach said: "In the one-day games he began to lose his action a little bit, not to understand his game, and that has carried through to the Tests." He said Anderson would work with the England bowling coach, Troy Cooley, to straighten his run-up.

Fletcher declared that the problem with young English bowlers like Anderson is they have not learned how to bowl on flat wickets: "People think he can just get six wickets every innings, but that has not happened to any bowler." In fact, Cooley is not assisting at Lord's, which seems remiss.

Anderson was not called on to bowl until 10 minutes before lunch yesterday, which suggested Fletcher had been saying the same to Vaughan. He had made a bad fielding error early in the morning, but the body language improved as soon as he started to bowl. He was more accurate, and his length was more hostile.

Hard as they tried after tea, South Africa's batsmen could not score boundaries from him when they wanted quick runs. Two spells brought two wickets for 17 runs in 10 overs. Anderson must still be part of England's future.

Sadly, Darren Gough looked like England's past. In the NatWest Series final he had been a hero, man of the match. He was asked to play a county game to prove his fitness for a Test. When he declared that he was fine they must have wanted to declare a bank holiday in Yorkshire. Since then he has taken one wicket, and that was from a bad shot at Edgbaston. That came in 53 overs that cost 215 runs. He goes on receiving high marks for energy and enthusiasm, but he has not looked like taking wickets.

Gough's failure has been disappointing, but Harmison's has been frustrating. Graeme Smith commented on his raw pace last Thursday, but he has displayed neither line nor length to go with it. He regularly bowled short down leg yesterday, forcing an acrobatic display from Alec Stewart.

Only Flintoff could claim to be a victim of the natural order. He had conceded 96 runs off 35 overs when he finally got a wicket. Jacques Rudolph - the only South African batsman not to cash in so far - obligingly feathered an edge to the keeper. And while Flintoff toiled, Mark Butcher and Giles missed easy chances in the slips.

Flintoff is a good mate. He signalled to Butcher not to worry, and refrained from adverse comment to Giles. He just got on with the job. Flintoff is the kind of cricketer who cannot be properly judged by averages.

Just as well; coming into this match he had taken 33 Test wickets at 50.54, and scored 683 runs at 20.08.

But the life-force powers Flintoff. In the spell in which he had Rudolph caught and the total rose above 600, he bowled 10 overs with four maidens, and the wicket cost 29 runs. He is a sound character as well as a mate.

He will play at The Oval, but how many of his colleagues from that promising attack for the First Test will be there too? Maybe no more than a couple.