Anderson struggles put Onions back in frame
Sunday 29 May 2011
"Find a fast bowler" was a campaign that English cricket would dutifully dust off and re-launch at regular intervals during the 1980s and 90s. Now, with stocks apparently healthier than they have been for years, the task this week is to find the right fast bowler to inconvenience Sri Lanka with Friday's second Test in mind.
Jimmy Anderson has not been discounted from calculations for Lord's because of the side strain that will prevent him from rejoining Andrew Strauss's attack in Cardiff. But, with only three days between Tests, Geoff Boycott had it about right when he commented "you would have to be wrong in the head to pick him."
Given that county cricket will shortly gorge itself on a month-long diet of Twenty20 crash, bang wallop, Anderson could struggle to prove his fitness for the third and final match of the series, at the Rose Bowl, which starts on 16 June. Even an Ashes hero cannot stroll back into a four-man attack on the strength of a few nets.
So where will England look next, having made some excellent calls in the fast bowling department over the past 12 months or so?
Unfortunately for the selectors, the larder is not quite as full as it could be because Tim Bresnan (calf) and Chris Woakes (shins) are out of contention. Bresnan, brilliant when given a chance towards the end of the Ashes series, would probably have started this series but for injury while up and coming youngster Woakes is often mentioned in dispatches. Still, national selector Geoff Miller and his colleagues are not short of options with Steven Finn, Graham Onions, Ajmal Shahzad and Jade Dernbach likely to be uppermost in their minds.
Finn has plenty going for him. For a start, the 22-year-old was 12th man in Cardiff and might have been a better bet than the initially rusty looking Stuart Broad. On top of that, Lord's is his home ground and, this time last year, he took nine wickets there in a Test against Bangladesh.
England clearly think a great deal of the 6ft 7ins Finn, so much so that he started the winter's Ashes series ahead of Bresnan and Chris Tremlett and was gently dropped, rather than cruelly axed, after three Tests on the basis his wickets were costing too many runs.
The problem for Finn this week could be that Strauss's two remaining fast bowlers, Broad and Tremlett, are both tall, bang it in merchants, and a third of the same type would leave England with little in the way of variety. So what price a heart-warming return for Onions, whose style is much more "kiss the turf" and search for seam movement?
Eighteen months ago, Onions looked nailed on for a long run in the Test team. He made a spectacular debut – at Lord's – in 2009 when taking 5 for 38 during West Indies' first innings and quickly became an important member of that summer's triumphant Ashes team.
Being dropped in South Africa the following winter was a blow, but far worse soon followed with a back injury so severe that Onions missed all of last season. He is restored to fitness now and bowling well enough to make him a real prospect for Lord's this week.
As for Shahzad and Dernbach, swing is their speciality. And it was Dernbach who returned the most eye-catching figures of all the candidates (9 for 138) for England Lions against Sri Lanka at Derby a week ago. A squad of 12 is likely to be announced early this week. Mind you, if England wanted to give themselves room for manoeuvre they could go for 13 by adding a second spinner (Samit Patel or Monty Panesar) and at least threaten to play five bowlers.
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