Caddick should throw caution to the winds

England will look to strike bowler in blustery conditions if Astle is to be stopped in second Test
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The Independent Online

A 50-KNOT gale was blowing when England touched down here yesterday to prepare for the second Test at the Basin Reserve in two day's time. High winds, especially southerlies, are pretty standard for a place known as the Windy City, but bowlers do not like them, which is why England must work out which of them will bowl into it and prepare them for a match of hard graft.

It requires a special kind of character to chug away into a strong wind. Normally whingeing spinners take on the task, as Robert Croft did when he took three second-innings wickets here last time England toured, but early indications from the turf manager, as groundsmen are called here, are that the pitch could well be a green seamer.

Unless blessed with masochistic tendencies or a strong hairline, it is the short straw of bowling. For that reason you need to be selfless and able to think sweet thoughts, especially when the thoroughbreds cruise in like clippers on a following wind.

Given that Andrew Caddick's delicate constitution mainly responds only to tail winds, brute strength is an asset for pace bowlers attempting the role, and none come more brutish than Andrew Flintoff. The Lancashire all-rounder is both nice enough and daft enough to do it without raising an eyebrow too, which makes the captain's job easier.

A streamlined shape is also a bonus and, although Flintoff and Caddick are precluded here – one due to body size, the other to prominent ears – the all-rounder, along with Matthew Hoggard, at least sports the kind of cropped hair that gives them a head for the job.

In the past, the most obvious candidate for the donkey work has been the spinner, in this case Ashley Giles. Firing his darts into the rough while the quicks try and strike at the other end is something Giles became used to in India. Unlike Croft, he lacks a good drifter and would probably prefer a still day to a blustery one.

It was blowing when England lost here to New Zealand on the 1977-78 tour, the first time they had ever lost to the Kiwis. Captained by Geoff Boycott, England were mainly beaten in a low-scoring match by Richard Hadlee, who took 10 wickets in the match, and the wind, which blew fiercely throughout. On a pitch doing a bit, England suffered by not being able to keep it tight into the wind.

While Bob Willis and Chris Old shared 14 of the 20 wickets coming down it, Ian Botham, Phil Edmonds could not keep a lid on matters into the southerly. England's batting also appeared to be affected, or at least Boycott's did after his first innings of 77 took seven and a half hours. If Nathan Astle could only stay in that long, he would have about 500. If it is blowing on Thursday, or any day after that, Caddick's penchant for not striking in the first innings could provide problems for England if he hogs the downbreeze end. The discrepancy between what he averages per wicket in the first innings (37 runs) and what he takes them for in the second (20.4) is far bigger than any contemporary pace bowler of similar standing.

The pattern was repeated in the last Test, when Caddick took three wickets first up, followed by six in the victory charge so thrillingly held up by Astle's hitting spree. It was the 11th time he had taken five or more wickets in an innings and the seventh time it he had performed it in the second.

Asked if he had any thoughts why this should be, the fast bowler said he felt it was just one of those things. "It might be that batsmen play differently over the first and second innings," Caddick said yesterday. "I believe they leave the ball off me a lot more, and try to see me off in the first dig, than they do later in the match."

If it sounds weak, it was certainly true in the last match, at least when Astle batted. On day two, with the pitch still green, he allowed several to pass by before falling lbw to Matthew Hoggard. In the second innings, especially when Caddick took the second new ball, no part of the stands was left unplundered as Astle launched the England strike bowler over the ropes time and time again.

If Caddick is right and batsmen look to leave him at the start of a match, it is because he bowls it a lot wider than he does later on. A more telling stat, therefore, is the strike-rate with which he takes his wickets. In the first innings he has taken 104 wickets at a rate of one every 72 balls, rather lame for a pace bowler at the fresher end of the match, both stamina and pitch-wise. In the second it is 86 at an excellent 41.5 balls per wicket, a rate even Steve Waugh would settle for.

Impressive though the latter figures are, the reality is that most Tests are shaped in the first innings, not the second. Caddick's figures suggest that he is a scavenger rather than a killer, cleaning up mainly when teams are looking for quick runs, or down and out on the back of a first-innings deficit.

For a bowler of immense ability, such a discrepancy suggests a lack of mental toughness or self-confidence. There certainly appears to be a hesitancy, a waiting to see how the state of the game lies rather than initiating it himself, something that Darren Gough tries to do.

The answer could lie with his New Zealand background – until recently the Black Caps were, give or take a world-class performer or two, one of the more apologetic teams in world cricket. Under Stephen Fleming they have toughened up, but there is still a timid streak that runs through their cricket.

It could be that, despite the occasional posturing and gauche bluster, that Caddick has this trait as well. The acid test will come when Astle next comes into bat. If it is windy and the bat-speed is hot, someone could go a very long way.