Butcher swings argument for batsmen to practise bowling

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The Independent Online

It only served to underline the hopelessness of Zimbabwe's batting that in their second innings no fewer than seven wickets were taken by two part-time bowlers, Mark Butcher and Anthony McGrath. They removed batsman after batsman who had done the hard work and played himself in, but then succeeded only in making the First Test a gift-wrapped present for England.

Two years ago at Edgbaston, Butcher, who swings the ball both ways, had found the right conditions and taken four Australian wickets for next to nothing before Adam Gilchrist put his bowling into an altogether different perspective. Now, at Lord's, after receiving the man of the match award, he modestly said that he expected to encounter these conditions only in England - and occasionally at that.

Butcher bowls at a sort of military medium and when he gets it right, as he did here, he causes problems to a generation of batsmen who allow panic to set in very soon when the ball begins to deviate from the straight and narrow. Butcher enjoys his bowling, but does it without any great sense of expectation. It can only have miffed the three senior fast bowlers - Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and James Anderson - that it was Butcher and McGrath and not they who delivered the goods in the second innings.

If anything, McGrath is even plainer than Butcher, but the pitch was doing enough to give him some help, too. Even so, McGrath will have been surprised by the ease with which the Zimbabweans capitulated and I am sure his success in picking up three wickets will not give him ideas above his station in the bowling department, otherwise he could be in for some nasty shocks.

None the less, this experience should not be forgotten. McGrath's presence, like Butcher's, will always give his captain an extra option and just occasionally he will do the trick. The success of these two shows that even in these days of specialised multi-purpose cricketers, it is always worth a captain having an occasional bowler or two up his sleeve.

In bygone days, the leg-breaks of Ken Barrington and Bob Barber came under this heading for England. At much the same time, Peter Parfitt, who played in 37 Test matches, purveyed an acceptable form of off-spin. More recently, Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash have done something similar, although both were given too little opportunity to show their worth as off-spinners by suspicious captains. Mike Atherton had an occasional leg-break up his sleeve at the start of his career until he decided that respectability lay in other directions.

Just as the bowlers should work at their batting so that they can contribute at the end of the innings, batsmen, with the appetite and some ability, should use the ball in the nets to see whether they too cannot help their side in an unexpected quarter. Butcher and McGrath have underlined a requirement that should not be ignored.