Angus Fraser: Onions proves there is life after Flintoff
Saturday 01 August 2009
The euphoria of England's Test victory at Lord's was quickly followed by the unhealthy and rather alarming assessment that the home sides chances of regaining the Ashes were largely based on the ability of the England medical team to keep Andrew Flintoff fit.
Flintoff was the catalyst behind England's triumph at the home of cricket and Andrew Strauss's chief executioner on the final morning, but in outstanding spells of fast bowling yesterday James Anderson and Graham Onions proved that, in the bowling department at least, England are definitely not a one-man band. With Flintoff retiring from Test cricket in less than a month's time this is excellent news for Strauss and England.
Even the best struggle to perform in every match and it is on these occasions that a team needs other members of the side to make up for an individual's inconsistency. It would have been unrealistic to expect Flintoff to repeat the feats of Lord's, where he took the match-winning figures of 5 for 92 in Australia's second innings. Having announced his intention to retire from Test cricket prior to the second Test, the desire to perform in the next and possibly last match would have been high.
It would have been in Australia's first innings at Edgbaston too, but a sportsman's body does not always react as desired, and Flintoff has been out of sorts at Edgbaston. What a contrast there was between the bowling of England on Friday and Saturday. On the opening day of the third Test, and with only 30 overs to deliver, England's attack was too keen to make the most of helpful conditions. There are times when a bowler tries too hard to impress, and in attempting to capitalise on the situation England's fast bowlers failed to make the Australian batsmen play enough. When Shane Watson and Simon Katich did look to strike the ball it was all too often for four.
On the second morning, and with the ball moving around alarmingly, England's bowlers opted for a simple gameplan – bowl the ball on a good line and length and let the conditions do the rest. It was the right tactic to employ.
In the last two years Anderson has shown everyone what a high class bowler he is, so yesterday's five-wicket haul should not have come as a surprise. When the ball is swinging there are few more dangerous bowlers in the world than Anderson, and he dismissed Graham Manou, bowled, with an absolute beauty.
Anderson's control of swing is a joy to watch, and it completely bamboozled Mitchell Johnson too, who padded up to a ball that would have hit middle stump. The dismissal of Michael Clarke, with a vicious inswinger, wasn't bad either.
But it was Onions who triggered England's response after a disappointing first day by taking wickets with the opening two balls of the day. There were many who felt that Onions should make way for his Durham team-mate, Stephen Harmison, in this Test. His display yesterday should have made those people think again.
Onions does not quite possess the spite and hostility of Harmison but he is a fast bowler that makes things happen. Onions is aggressive and he bowls with good pace. He is constantly at the batsman, who knows that he is in a battle when the lanky seamer has the ball in his hand.
Onions swings the ball too when he pitches it up, as Michael Hussey found out when he left the only ball he faced and watched it knock back off stump. His consistency will increase as he becomes accustomed to Test cricket and he looks set to be around the England set-up for several years to come. Stuart Broad is the only England bowler yet to perform in the series, but his turn may come in Australia's second innings.
Setting a captain's example...
Former Middlesex captains have not always been as generous as Andrew Strauss when the opposition's wicketkeeper has suffered a mishap. There have been greater acts of sportsmanship than that of Strauss, who allowed Australia to replace the broken fingered Brad Haddin with Graham Manou after the toss had been conducted. Strauss, the England captain, could have been hard-nosed about Australia's misfortune and stipulated that Haddin had to play, but it would have appeared rather churlish.
When Middlesex played Warwickshire at Edgbaston in 2001 the Middlesex captain, who shall remain nameless, refused to allow the opposition to field a replacement keeper when Keith Piper, the first-choice Warwickshire gloveman, went down with flu. Michael Powell, the Warwickshire captain, took the gloves, keeping to the likes of Vasbert Drakes and Melvyn Betts. Powell's hands were black and blue after a day in the field and he struggled to grip the bat when batting, scoring four and eleven in the match. Powell seemed reluctant to shake my hand at the end of the match, which Middlesex won. I would like to think it was due to the bruising.
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