England bowlers will only know their strength when they face Australian test

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The Independent Online

England seldom feel anything less than at home when they visit Birmingham. And not even a ground that is more construction site than cricket arena this summer could disturb their sense of well-being yesterday.

Edgbaston will be a credit to the Midlands, no doubt, once its £30m redevelopment scheme has been completed by the middle of next year. For the moment, though, it is a work in progress – a state of affairs that applies to Andrew Strauss's side, despite another five-star bowling performance from Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn.

England, it is true, appeared to be a little closer to the finishing line yesterday than those hard-hatted builders who were forced to down tools while Pakistan's batting line-up was being dismantled for the third time in a week. But the difficulty for punters and pundits alike is to try to put these performances into some sort of perspective with the winter in mind.

Pakistan have just drawn a two-Test series against Australia, knocking over the Baggy Greens for 88 along the way at Headingley. Now England have dismissed Pakistan for 182 and 80 at Trent Bridge, followed by 72 at Edgbaston. So the Ashes are in the bag? If only life in general, and cricket in particular, were that simple.

The truth of the matter is that fast bowlers are enjoying a purple patch at the moment, with the ball either swinging or seaming – and sometimes doing both – on pitches that remind them why they took up the occupation in the first place. Edgbaston yesterday did too much for a Test match strip, although any sympathy one wanted to feel for the visitors was tempered by the fact that they chose to bat first when captain Salman Butt could have unleashed his own attack after winning the toss.

The million-dollar question is whether Messrs Anderson, Broad and Finn will be effective enough when they are operating on generally batsmen-friendly surfaces in Australia with a Kookaburra ball that swings less, and goes soft more quickly, than its English, Duke, equivalent.

Why not? That is the optimistic way to look at three young bowlers who appear to enjoy hunting as a pack and are apparently blossoming under the guidance of England's still new bowling coach, David Saker. And, if Mr Saker, born in Melbourne and of Victoria and Tasmania fame, cannot give them a few pointers about succeeding Down Under then who can? First, though, England must make sure there is no slip twixt cup and lip when it comes to polishing off Pakistan in this four-match series. The margin of their victory at Trent Bridge – 354 runs – and the ease with which the tourists were brushed aside last Sunday meant that complacency was likely to be the biggest enemy in Birmingham. And so it may remain.

Mind you, Pakistan's followers have already given up hope of seeing a fightback. Or so it would seem, judging from the almost complete absence of away team supporters yesterday. Either that or the lack of interest in Test cricket, so obvious in other parts of the world, is gathering pace among certain sections of the community over here.

Edgbaston, even with a reduced capacity of about 15,000, was barely two-thirds full yesterday – an unusual state of affairs at a ground that many England players regard as their favourite in terms of loud and passionate support. It promises to be a similar story today, too, with only 10,000 tickets bought in advance, although sunshine could encourage a few walk-ups.

It would be good to see some Pakistan flags being waved today. But, if the ground is short of fans, of either team, then the decision to hold back-to-back Tests in the Midlands, at a time when money is tight for most people, must be at least partly to blame.

This series also ends with a pair of matches in a fortnight – both in London. Lord's being Lord's, it will be sold out for most of the game, but The Oval is having a struggle to shift tickets at the usual rate. England's administrators, like her players, cannot afford to take anything for granted when it comes to Test cricket.

England's recent form

4-6 June: Beat Bangladesh at Old Trafford by an innings and 80 runs

29 July-1 August: Beat Pakistan at Trent Bridge by 354 runs

Leading wicket-takers this summer

James Anderson: 24 wickets in four Tests, including his 6-17 last week.

Steven Finn: 22 wickets in four Tests.

Stuart Broad: Has picked up seven wickets, so far, in two Tests v Pakistan.

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