Angus Fraser: Time is right for Ashes alumni to stand up and be counted

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The Independent Online

England's bowling resources for Thursday's second Test against Pakistan were further depleted yesterday when Liam Plunkett was ruled out of the match. Plunkett injured his left side playing for Durham against West Indies A at the weekend and after seeing Kirk Russell, the England physiotherapist, at Old Trafford he was forced to withdraw from the squad.

Ironically, Plunkett was asked to play in the match by Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, primarily to practise his batting, but he damaged his side while bowling his seventh over of the game. The sight of another injured England player packing his bags and forlornly leaving a Test venue will have done little to raise the spirits of a team deprived of several leading players. Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones are already out for the summer and Plunkett has only a slim chance of playing again this season.

The loss of Plunkett is expected to give Sajid Mahmood his third Test appearance. Mahmood played in two of England's three Tests against Sri Lanka, taking seven wickets before being carted around in the NatWest series. These wayward displays meant that Mahmood made way for Stephen Harmison when the fast bowler recovered from a shin complaint. Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis will compete with Mahmood for the final pace spot, but the Lancastrian is favourite to make his first England appearance at his home ground.

The absence of Plunkett, a player who Fletcher believes has the potential to bat at No 8, may encourage England to play Jamie Dalrymple but this option seems unlikely. Dalrymple is a gifted young cricketer but he does not bat as well as Ian Bell or bowl as well as Monty Panesar, the two players he could possibly replace. Playing Dalrymple instead of Plunkett would be huge gamble because the toss would become the pivotal moment of the match. If Andrew Strauss were to call correctly and bat first the punt may be deemed to have been worthwhile. But if Pakistan were to win the toss and bat, England, with only two seamers would be in all sorts of trouble.

I played in a Test in Guyana in 1998 when England played only two fast bowlers. England lost the toss at this hot and humid venue and, an hour in to the second day and with more than 30 overs each against our names, Dean Headley and I were hallucinating at the end of each over. Philip Tufnell and Robert Croft, England's two spinners, never came in to a game that we lost to the West Indies by 242 runs.

England's senior players, led by Strauss, the stand-in captain, keep stating the team must forget the injury crisis and loss of so many influential players, and get on with playing cricket. The approach is to be applauded but it appears England's problems have affected those who regained the Ashes more than those who, as a direct consequence of the injuries, are getting their first taste of Test cricket.

This can be seen by looking at the performance of England's players since the Ashes, and comparing them with their career records at the end of that unforgettable series. Eight of the 11 players who played in the first four Tests against Australia have fared worse in the 10 matches England have played since, and only two - Bell and Matthew Hoggard - have performed better. Flintoff's figures are almost identical. The all-rounder averages two runs less with both bat and ball, so attracts little blame for the team's faltering form.

The figures are disappointing because England would have hoped the delicate position the side finds itself in would have brought the best out of its senior players. No player has had a complete nightmare but Strauss - Vaughan's knee would have affected his batting in Pakistan - has fallen away the most. The England opener was averaging more than 50 at the end of last summer but in his nine Tests since this has come down to 35.

Geraint Jones has had a miserable run, too. The England wicketkeeper is one of only three - Hoggard and Kevin Pietersen are the others - to play in every Test but in 17 innings he has passed 35 only twice. Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook and Owais Shah have shown their determination to make the most of unexpected opportunities, with each averaging over 50.

England's next generation of bowlers have not made quite the same impact but Plunkett, Mahmood, Panesar and James Anderson have the potential to carry the attack in years to come. Anderson played in just one Test, where he took 6 for 79 in Bombay. An bowling average of over 30 looks high but all have made an encouraging, if inconsistent, start to their Test careers.

So why have England's Ashes winners gone off the boil? Is it just coincidence they are all slightly off form at the same time, or was Steve Waugh right in suggesting that they had lost their killer instinct and casually fallen back in to their old bad habits.

England's cricketers may not like to hear it but Waugh's explanation seems pretty accurate. The team train just as hard as they did 12 months ago but you do wonder whether they are as focused and determined as they were. The players need to realise that great teams and cricketers do not perform just when it suits them, they perform consistently over a long period of time and against every opponent, and that includes Pakistan tomorrow.

Ashes to ashes: How England's heroes have suffered...

England's spate of injuries since reclaiming the Ashes last summer has been used to explain their failure to win any of the three series since. However, rather than the newcomers not coming up to scratch, the Ashes heroes still seem to be suffering from a hangover, if you compare their averages then and now.

Michael Vaughan

Batting average at end

of Ashes: 43.82

Tests since Ashes 2

Runs scored 82

Average since Ashes 20.5

Marcus Trescothick

End of Ashes 45.27

Tests since 7

Runs scored 518

Average 39.85

Andrew Strauss

End of Ashes 50.47

Tests since 9

Runs scored 595

Average 35.0

Ian Bell

End of Ashes 42.55

Tests since 7

Runs scored 572

Average 44.0

Kevin Pietersen

End of Ashes 52.56

Tests since 10

Runs scored 839

Average 44.16

Andrew Flintoff

End of Ashes

Batting 33.43 Bowling 32.31

Tests since 9

Runs scored 436 Ave 31.14

Wickets 36 Ave 30.52

Geraint Jones

End of Ashes 29.74

Tests since 10

Runs 283 Average 19.86

Ashley Giles

Bowling average at end of Ashes 38.66

Tests since 2

Wickets 3 Average 82.33

Matthew Hoggard

End of Ashes 29.63

Tests since 10

Wickets 44 Average 26.25

Simon Jones

End of Ashes 28.24

Tests since 0

Steve Harmison

End of Ashes 28.49

Tests since 6

Wickets 21 Average 34.24

... and the stand-ins have flourished

Paul Collingwood

Tests played since the Ashes 9

Runs scored 786

Average 52.4

Alastair Cook

Tests 6

Runs scored 467

Average 51.88

Owais Shah

Tests 1

Runs scored 126

Average 63.0

Liam Plunkett

Tests 6

Wickets 16

Bowling average 37.56

Monty Panesar

Tests 7

Wickets 17

Average 39.7

Shaun Udal

Tests 4

Wickets 8

Average 43.0

James Anderson

Tests 1

Wickets 7

Average 13.17

Sajid Mahmood

Tests 2

Wickets 7

Average 30.28

Ian Blackwell

Tests 1

Wickets 0

Average -

Jon Lewis

Tests 1

Wickets 3

Average 40.67

One year of hurt: England's post-Ashes injury list

England in Pakistan (Nov-Dec 05)

Simon Jones (missed series; knee injury)

Michael Vaughan (missed first Test; knee injury)

Andrew Strauss (missed third Test; at birth of child)

Ashley Giles (missed third Test; hip injury)

Chris Tremlett (missed series; hamstring injury)

England in India (Mar 05)

Marcus Trescothick (missed series; personal reasons)

Ashley Giles (missed series; hip injury)

Michael Vaughan (missed series; knee injury)

Simon Jones (missed series; knee injury)

Steve Harmison (missed third Test; shin injury)

England V Sri Lanka (May-Jun 06)

James Anderson (missed series; back injury)

Ashley Giles (missed series; hip injury)

Michael Vaughan (missed series; knee injury)

Simon Jones (missed series; knee)

Steve Harmison (missed series; shin injury)

England V Pakistan (July-Aug 06)

James Anderson (missed series; back)

Andrew Flintoff (pictured left being treated at Lord's earlier this month)

(missed series; ankle injury)

Ashley Giles (missed series; hip injury)

Michael Vaughan (missed series; knee)

Simon Jones (missed series; knee)

Liam Plunkett (to miss second and third Tests; side strain)