Cunning last-minute plans can make legends of tacticians when they work, but when they fail they become an unwanted distraction.
It was widely believed Stephen Harmison had performed England a major service during the tourists' final warm-up match before this week's first Test when he exposed apparent flaws in the technique of Phillip Hughes, Australia's dynamic young opening batsman. Harmison dismissed Hughes twice at Worcester with 90mph pinpoint accurate chin-hunting short balls, deliveries that made Australia's latest wunderkind appear human. In the twist of a head and an uncontrolled thump at the ball this suddenly became the way to dismiss Hughes in the 2009 Ashes, and England's fast bowlers – James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Andrew Flintoff – would have undoubtedly been encouraged to follow the example set by Harmison.
For Anderson and Broad, England's new-ball pairing at Cardiff, it was a mistake. Harmison is a different bowler and possesses alternative assets to Anderson and Broad, and by attempting to repeat the feats of the Durham speedster they failed to bowl to their strengths. By doing this they wasted the new ball, a commodity that needs to be cherished on a benign pitch like this one that is being used in the principality.
In the past 18 months Anderson has become a high quality swing bowler and he should have concentrated on pitching the ball up rather than banging it in halfway down the pitch. Swing bowlers have to bowl a fuller length to perform at their best, as Anderson's dismissal of Simon Katich and Michael Hussey highlighted yesterday. Broad is developing into a fine bowler but his bowling does not possess the spite of Harmison. On a desperately slow pitch he was always going to waste considerable energy and compromise control attempting to achieve something that does not come naturally to him.
For Flintoff, who dismissed Hughes for 36, the tactic was acceptable. Banging the ball in a threatening manner is a major part of Flintoff's bowling. It's part of his armoury and it allowed him to implement the strategy successfully. Perhaps he should have taken the new ball ahead of Broad. In a match of this profile it is crucial for a bowler to start well, to find a good rhythm and build a platform from which to bowl for the remainder of the innings. Bowler's, especially those playing in the modern game, need to be flexible but they hate conceding runs, and England leaked 38 in the opening seven overs of Australia's first innings.
Philip Tufnell, the former Middlesex and England spinner, used to say that bowling was all about fingertip control, and he is absolutely right. Bowling is a sensation, a feeling, and bowlers know whether they are sending down a good or bad ball from the moment the ball leaves their fingertips. Bowling a bouncer is a completely different sensation to bowling full and, despite what people think, it is not easy to flit between the two. By changing their gameplans and attempting to combine both full- and short-pitched deliveries, Anderson and Broad failed to gather the early rhythm they were looking for and it resulted in the pair failing to bowl with the consistency England would have wanted.
It is not just with the ball that England have so far been outplayed in the first Test. Australia have shown greater determination with the bat, placing a far greater price on their wicket than their opponents. Nowhere was this highlighted better than in the final half an hour of cricket on the opening two days of the Test.
On the evening of the first day Flintoff and Matthew Prior appeared in little trouble and were scoring runs at ease. The desire to be positive was admirable but there was a casualness about their batting, an approach that suggested a costly mistake was just around the corner. And so it transpired with Flintoff chopping a Peter Siddle delivery on to his stumps and Prior driving recklessly at the same bowler and being bowled through the gate.
In contrast was the attitude of Ricky Ponting and Katich on day two. Each player desperately wanted to reach a hundred before the close but the sight of three figures did not compromise their batting. There was an "over my dead body" feel to the way in which they approached the landmark, and once there a desire to produce something significant, a performance that could potentially win the Test. England will need to show similar traits over the coming weeks if they are to repeat the feat of 2005 and regain the Ashes.
Forget about Pietersen's follies and enjoy the ride
The manner in which Kevin Pietersen loses his wicket will continue to infuriate England's supporters but he must be encouraged to play his own game.
There are some who almost want Pietersen to become a Chris Tavaré-type figure, a player that scores 20 runs in a session of Test cricket. If Pietersen were to withdraw he would not be the batsman he is. Yes, he could be averaging over 60 if he cut the occasional rash shot out of his repertoire, but watching him bat would be far less fun. Similar things were said of David Gower at his best, and he too would have been wrong to change his approach.
Watching Pietersen bat could be compared to surfing on a great wave. Some times you will have the ride of your life but on others you will come crashing down in a heap. Enjoy him for what he is, an outstanding batsman, because he will be greatly missed when he disappears.Reuse content