Change of pace: Less fiddling with field keeps bowlers content
Pietersen's consultation and encouragement are welcome change
Sunday 10 August 2008
Kevin Pietersen is not the type of man fast bowlers generally warm to. In the main we are a breed of bitter and twisted martyrs who love to whinge about the unappreciated hard work we put in on a daily basis and the physical toll it takes on our bodies. Prima-donna batsmen who revel in and play up to being in the limelight are definitely not our pints of bitter.
Yet in the opening three days of the Fourth Test, England'sfast bowlers appear to have responded positively to Pietersen as captain. It is not the endless words of encouragement they receive from him at mid-off or the countless reassuring taps on the backside that have led to them enjoying his new position; it is the fact that they now feel involved with what is taking place out in the middle.
Michael Vaughan was an outstanding England captain, but there were many times during his reign when he set fields for his own inquisitive pleasure without consulting the person whose job it was to let go of the ball. Most bowlers, rather than risk confrontation with their captain, tolerate such treatment, but there are very few who enjoy such an autocratic approach.
In my Middlesex career there were times when a bored or frustrated Mike Gatting used to get a little funky with his field placements, but it did not last long if John Emburey or I were bowling. We would occasionally throw the ball back at him and tell him to bowl to the field because we were not prepared to.
Nobody dared to do that to Vaughan or Nasser Hussain, who treated his bowlers in a similar manner, and it seems nobody will need to react in such a way to Pietersen, who continues to work closely with his bowlers. Fast bowlers enjoy simple fields – three slips, gully, cover point, mid-off, mid-on, square leg and fine leg – and they like them to remain in position for at leasta couple of overs before theyare altered.
For a bowler there is nothing more off-putting than a captain who, without consulting you, constantly changes the positions of fielders as you make your way back to your mark. When you turn and look at your field you stand there thinking, "Does he want me to bowl at the batsman hoping to bring silly, short, backward bloody midwicket in to play, or does he want me to continue plugging away outside off stump?" If it comes off and the fielder takes the catch he is a great captain; if the ball gets spanked through square leg your leader gives you a killer stare.
In the long run England's bowlers will benefit from thinking for themselves. Nobodytold Glenn McGrath or Curtly Ambrose how to bowl. Like all good bowlers they worked out how to dismiss batsmen through their own experiences. There will still be times when the consensus gets it wrong, as happened yesterday morning. Stephen Harmison and James Anderson, England's stars of the first innings, were poor. In perfect bowling conditions the pair bowled too short and too wide.
It was left to Stuart Broad to show them the error of their ways. With his fourth ball to Neil McKenzie he hit the jackpot, bowling the South African opener off his inside edge.
The introduction of Andrew Flintoff brought an end to the "aim at the stumps" strategy. After a brief discussion with Pietersen the field for Hashim Amla was again set for short- pitched bowling.
England have used the tactic against Amla throughout the series, but the South African's average here is 54. It isn't working. The plan shows that bowlers can get it wrong too.
But the cliché that a captain is only as good as his bowlers still rings true. If Pietersen can get Harmison and Flintoff firingas they did in 2005, winning the 2009 Ashes may not be as distant a dream as it currently seems.
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