Bowlers miss 'captain' Anderson as young attack struggles for rhythm

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss has not been asked yet whether he believes Sri Lanka's spirited fightback over the last few days is good for cricket, but it is reasonable to assume his response will be along the lines of that uttered by a Middlesex and England predecessor when facing a similar line of inquiry.

Instead of achieving the 3-0 win he had set his sights on, Mike Gatting had to settle for taking the Ashes 2-1 at the end of the 1986-87 series. "Still, Gatt, it's quite nice for the Aussies to have won in Sydney, isn't it?" was the gently worded inquiry. "Quite nice?" exclaimed England's captain. "You must be mad. Give that lot an inch and they'll take a mile."

Gatting was right, of course, in that Australia did not look back for the best part of 20 years. And while no-one expects Sri Lanka to dominate this series, never mind Test cricket in general, giving them even a sniff of success so soon after that Cardiff walloping is somewhat of a dangerous business.

Professional cricketers hate being accused of complacency, reacting to the suggestion in the same way that a batsman responds when a previously true pitch suddenly misbehaves - with a look of bemusement. And, in fairness, England are so focused on becoming the world's No 1 side that it would be a real surprise if they had become a little too pleased with themselves when there is still a long way to go.

But something has not been quite right at Lord's from the first morning when Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen all fell to poor shots against the new ball. To tell the truth, Pietersen's loose drive came as no great surprise, given his form across most of the last year, but seeing Strauss and Trott play across the line, particularly after England had been put in, did come as quite a shock to the system.

At least the home side were able to recover with the bat, thanks in part to some accommodating Sri Lankan bowling, but Strauss' attack blew cold far too often while Tillakaratne Dilshan and Co breezed well past the follow-on mark of 286. The big three of Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn bowled some cracking deliveries but there was a lot more dross, meaning they could never build up the sort of pressure that ultimately destroyed the opposition in Cardiff a week ago.

England have more than enough back room staff – from technical specialists to psychologists – to work out what was awry. But, whatever the conclusion, perhaps the would-be Test champions needed a few hard days in the office just to remind themselves that everything cannot always fall into place (even if Strauss may beg to differ).

Given the way England finished the Ashes series and then started this campaign, innings victories were becoming par for the course and expectations were high.

Thrashing Australia in both Melbourne and Sydney was the stuff of dreams, but if anything, the win in Cardiff – though not a cue for national rejoicing – was even more spectacular. England could not win that Test with so little time left in the game, and yet they did.

Given what Strauss' men have achieved over the last year or so, it would be wrong to firmly conclude about the result of this match with two days still to go. But we have seen enough to know that Jimmy Anderson's optimistic view about his chances of playing at the Rose Bowl on Thursday week is good news.

It should go without saying that England missed Anderson's expertise as a swing and seam bowler at Lord's. After all, he is head and shoulders above Broad, Tremlett and Finn in terms of wickets in the bank, if not in inches on the tape measure. But, almost as important, they also missed the wise words which he would have passed on to his less experienced colleagues from mid-off. There were times yesterday when all of the bowlers, but especially Finn, looked lonely out there. The Middlesex youngster just could not stop himself from drifting onto leg stump during one spell – and there were a lot of hands on hips in the slip cordon when what Finn really needed was an arm around his shoulder and a bit of advice from someone who knows what it is like to be a bowler struggling for rhythm.

Anderson has been described in the past as the captain of the bowlers. Whatever the result here, England will certainly be glad to have him back in all his roles come the third Test in Hampshire.

“Jimmy is a very important member of our team,” said bowling coach David Saker. “And not just his bowling – he’s a good person to have around and he helps the other bowlers out, too.”