England 369 Otago XI 146 & 102-3 (Match drawn): Sidebottom scare hands lifeline to Harmison
Wednesday 27 February 2008
A tight hamstring and a dodgy radar were the only concerns for England on another largely productive day for Michael Vaughan's side in New Zealand. Both can be corrected before the first Test begins next Wednesday in Hamilton, but as the hamstring belongs to Ryan Sidebottom and the radar is Steve Harmison's they are significant concerns.
Sidebottom's injury, a grade one tear to his right hamstring, was sustained during Saturday's final one-day international in Christchurch and it will keep him out of England's last warm-up game before the first Test, which starts tonight here in Dunedin. England's medical team believe the fast bowler will be fit for Hamilton, and he needs to be. Since returning to the England side last summer, Sidebottom has been the most reliable and best of Vaughan's bowlers.
Harmison claimed 3 for 73 in 19 overs on the final day of England's practice match against an Otago Invitation XI. The figures suggest that everything is fine and dandy in the fast bowler's garden. Unfortunately, and rather predictably, that is not the case. Harmison's performance was nowhere near as good as his stats suggest. In fact they were extremely flattering. The bowling of the 29-year-old was once again wayward and lacking in confidence. His wickets were taken with undistinguished deliveries and the athleticism of Tim Ambrose, keeping wicket for England for the first time, was tested.
The form of the pace man was the principal reason why England chose to bowl for a second time after dismissing their opponents for 146 in their first innings.
The Invitation XI batting line-up contained four possible Test players – Matthew Bell, Stephen Fleming, Peter Fulton and Matthew Sinclair – and put up a stronger performance second time around, reaching 102 for 3 before the close.
In the field there were encouraging bowling displays from Matthew Hoggard, Stuart Broad and Monty Panesar. James Anderson took 3 for 52 for the day but once again his bowling lacked consistency. Broad was the far more impressive of the two and it is he who is pushing Harmison hard for a place in the first Test.
As is always the case, Harmison produced the occasional snorter, deliveries that whizzed past the nose of the batsman from a good length, but his bowling continues to place the selectors in a quandary. The injury to Sidebottom has allowed James Whitaker, Peter Moores and Vaughan to delay making a delicate yet important decision, but in the not too distant future they will have to.
Do they persevere with Harmison in the hope that he will regain the form that made him the most feared bowler in world cricket, or do they say "thank you" and look somewhere else at a younger model? The triumvirate can now delay the decision for three days, have another look at Harmison, and compare what he has to offer with that of Broad.
"Ryan is not available but the side we pick for Wednesday will be somewhere near our Test team," Vaughan said. "In an ideal world you would want to play your top seven batsmen to get them working together. You would love to play the bowling unit, too, but that is not going to be the case. Ryan's injury allows us to keep our options open but I would rather not have that option because he has been such an important part of our bowling set up. Hopefully he will be able to bowl later in the week and definitely by the time we reach Hamilton.
"Stephen was one of the reasons why we went out and bowled again, so that we could give him more overs. I have seen him spray the ball around more than he did here. It is not all doom and gloom with him. He has not arrived in New Zealand in great form. He is a bit rusty but he is getting better and better, and that is a good sign. If he gets selected for Wednesday's game he will bowl more and more, and no batsman enjoys pace and bounce and Steve provides that.
"The first warm-up game on the tour is all about players getting into their cricket again and that, on the whole, has happened," Vaughan added. "We would have batted again after bowling them out but I wanted the bowlers and fielders to get more overs in their legs. It also gave us the chance to get some of the batsmen we will play again in next week's Test out again cheaply."
One player that needs as much time in the middle as possible is Ambrose. The Warwickshire wicketkeeper batted ahead of Phil Mustard on Monday and kept wicket yesterday. Vaughan confirmed that he will make his debut against New Zealand in a week's time. The more time he can spend on the field before then, the greater the chance of him coping with the experience. England will be hoping that he is catching the ball from a fit Sidebottom and a realigned Harmison.
Scoreboard from Dunedin
Final day of two; Invitational XI won toss
England – First Innings 369 (O A Shah 96, A N Cook 85, I R Bell 75).
Invitation XI – First Innings
L J Morgan b Hoggard 3
M D Bell c Ambrose b Hoggard 0
P G Fulton c Anderson b S J Harmison 0
S P Fleming c Mustard b S J Harmison 5
M S Sinclair c Strauss b Anderson 2
J W Sheed c Strauss b Panesar 47
*†G J Hopkins c and b Hoggard 38
S Haig c Ambrose b Anderson 30
S Wells not out 5
M R Gillespie b Anderson 0
I E O'Brien c Mustard b Broad 0
Extras (b8 lb4 w4) 16
Total (50.4 overs) 146
Fall: 1-2 2-9 3-17 4-18 5-26 6-111 7-111 8-145 9-145.
Did not bat: W Somerville, D V Lobb.
Bowling: Hoggard 11-4-32-3; S J Harmison 10-1-41-2; Anderson 8-1-31-3; Broad 8.4-3-13-1; Panesar 11-5-15-1; Swann 2-0-2-0.
Invitation XI – Second Innings
L J Morgan c Shah b S J Harmison 17
M D Bell lbw b Panesar 22
P G Fulton b Panesar 33
S P Fleming not out 11
M S Sinclair not out 9
Extras (lb9 nb1) 10
Total (for 3, 32 overs) 102
Fall: 1-26 2-67 3-90.
Did not bat: *†G J Hopkins, I E O'Brien, S Haig, J W Sheed, S Wells, W Somerville, M R Gillespie, D V Lobb.
Bowling: S J Harmison 9-2-32-1; Broad 3-0-11-0; Hoggard 5-2-8-0; Panesar 8-3-15-2; Anderson 4-0-21-0; Swann 3-1-6-0.
Umpires: D J Walker and D M Quested.
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