Confidence crucial to massage England's weary attack

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The Independent Online

The input of England’s backroom staff will be more important than that of the team’s high-profile coaches in the build up to Friday’s second Test at Headingley. Kirk Russell, Mark Saxby, Sam Bradley and Steve Bull are employed to treat, massage, train and psychologically enhance England’s weary cricketers and they will need to be at their best to get Michael Vaughan’s side in tip top condition for Leeds.

Standing in the field for three days, which is exactly what South Africa made England do at the drawn first Test, is a debilitating enough experience on its own, but when you have to bowl as well it becomes absolutely knackering. Niggling injuries are sustained: muscles and minds are exhausted, and it is the job of Russell, Saxby, Bradley and Bull to patch up, pick up and prepare the team as well as they can for what will undoubtedly be another highly competitive encounter.

At the conclusion of the drawn first Test Michael Vaughan was extremely upbeat about his team's performance, and he had every right to be. The result does not show it but it was as good an all-round performance as England have produced in the past couple of years.

Confidence can be taken from the game, the only worry is that it could be outweighed by the physical state of the players bodies. England’s bowlers will be on their knees in the dressing room praying when Vaughan walks out to toss on Friday morning, hoping that the flick of the coin results in the team batting. It would afford them another day of rest. The return of Andrew Flintoff will ease their workload but only if he is a member of a five-man attack. Picking Flintoff as one of four bowlers could increase the onus on the other three because Vaughan would be reluctant to over bowl a bowler with such a poor fitness record.

The Lord’s Test finished with South Africa on top but the high quality of England’s cricket highlighted that Graeme Smith’s side are more vulnerable and beatable than many people imagined before the series began. By then it had almost been forgotten that England had scored 593-8 during the first two days of the Test, taking South Africa’s bowlers for almost four runs per over.

South Africa’s attack has the potential to be extremely destructive but it will not be looking forward to bowling at Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who carted them all around the home of cricket. Since then the practice of the South Africans has been limited to net sessions not matches and they will still be uncertain on Friday. There is a slope at Headingley, which makes it a difficult ground to bowl at too.

England’s bowlers may not be in the most positive of moods after taking three wickets in two days but deep down they know that if they strike early with the new ball they can bowl South Africa out cheaply. Each will be hoping that Headingley offers them greater encouragement than the benign strip of turf they toiled on at Lord’s. The Leeds pitch has changed significantly from the eighties and nineties when it was a seam bowlers paradise but, even so, it will still offer the fast men and Monty Panesar greater assistance.

Panesar was the one disappointment at Lord’s, failing to make any impression on a wearing pitch. Panesar remains a fine bowler but he needs to be more flexible. At the moment he is dangerous on pitches that suit his style of bowling but he appears unable to adapt his game to the conditions placed in front of him. Each pitch requires a spinner to bowl at a different pace on it and Panesar does not yet do this as well as he should.