Bowlers battle each other while battering Windies
Stuart Broad looked cross when he learned that he was to be rested, along with James Anderson. When Andrew Strauss won the toss and said England would bowl, the game was turned into an entertaining trial between three pace bowlers determined to make a case for a role against South Africa next month.
The spot belonged to Graham Onions, and when he was injured Steven Finn took his place. He in turn was replaced by Tim Bresnan, in Australia 18 months ago. Since when Bresnan has been on the winning side in 13 matches.
Yesterday, Onions was first on. He has a striking, gaunt face framed by black hair, thick stubble and the look of a Medieval monk. His run is the longest of the three and his raking stride ends in a textbook delivery, all rhythm and elegance.
Bresnan, who opened from the City End, is burly and comes in off a shorter run but bowls at the same pace as Onions. While he does not win the style prize, it is his place the others have their eye on.
Finn is the youngest, the tallest and the fastest of the trio, bowling at more than 87mph – 4mph faster than Onions and Bresnan.
Onions, who had bowled particularly well for Durham against Warwickshire early in the season, looked most likely to make the first strike. In his first four overs he appealed for lbw four times and buried his head in his hands when Ian Bell dropped an easy chance at third slip.
After changing ends, Onions was confident that he had Adrian Barath lbw, celebrating with high fives, before Barath referred the decision and it was overruled. Bell also managed to drop a sitter off Finn, but by then the first blow had been struck by Bresnan, when Barath edged a catch to Graeme Swann, who clung on at second slip.
Lunch had been taken before Onions was finally granted an lbw decision against Barath, and Finn's persistence was rewarded when he caught and bowled Darren Bravo.
With the fall of the next two wickets, the West Indies top order had imploded again. Assad Fudadin was Bresnan's second victim, when Bell managed to hold to a chance. Onions marked his second wicket, Narsingh Deonarine, by turning to the pavilion and raising both arms in a Flintoff-like gesture.
But the rock on which England's bowlers have foundered in two previous Tests was still at the wicket. Marlon Samuels was especially contemptuous of Swann, reaching his 50 with a six and a four. He took the West Indies past 200 before Bresnan speared a ball through his defence and Samuels was gone, lbw.
On yesterday's evidence of the work of the three men – and it was not flimsy – each has something to offer England. Each would be an more than adequate member of the team. Onions is certainly the best looker; Finn may be the most promising, but the most convincing performance was Bresnan's with three of the first six wickets. And he can bat too.
This trial was performed on a ground that was looking respectable yesterday after the rain, thanks to hard labour by groundsman Gary Barwell and his crew, but the climate did seem to affect the attendance – 17,000 tickets were sold but there did not appear to be that many in the ground.
Edgbaston's crowd is the most eccentric and endearing in England, especially on a Test Saturday, fancy dress day. I once watched D'Israeli bowling the Queen Victoria behind the RES Wyatt stand.
Yesterday there were small mobs dressed as surgeons, plump cooks, penguins and Red Indians (you cannot conceivably refer to them as Native Americans in Birmingham). But for years the most familiar sight has been of rows of young men with hairy legs dressed as nuns.
No nuns at the West Indies Test. Oh, where are the nuns of yesteryear?
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