England throw in odd couple with one eye on the bounce of Brisbane
Fast bowlers Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan are to play against Bangladesh tomorrow but the selectors' faith is as much to do with the Ashes as this week's Test action at Lord's
Nothing in sport tingles the spine more than the future. England's selectors, bless their bold little cotton socks, have offered a ravishing sight of it this week in their team for the opening Test match of the summer.
Perhaps they would not have acted with such adventure had the opponents been Australia instead of Bangladesh and there is a school of thought that says they had to do something to excite fascination in a dull, one-sided series which the tourists may consider a triumph if they take either of the two games into the fourth day.
But act the selectors have, in a spirit which recognises both the direction they have in mind for the team and the need to rotate players, given the intensive nature of the programme.
The initial headlines were seized understandably by the Irish left- handed batsman, Eoin Morgan, as soberly reserved off the field as he is excitingly flamboyant on it.
Look down the list a wee bit and the composition of the fast-bowling unit possesses equal potential to thrill. Jimmy Anderson, the returning attack leader, is joined by the Yorkshiremen Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad, and Steve Finn of Middlesex. Of the latter trio, Shahzad is the least likely to play but his Test debut will come soon.
In Bresnan and Finn it is possible to look beyond Lord's and Bangladesh tomorrow to Brisbane and Australia in November. Indeed, such has been their rapid advance during England's winter that when a panel of pundits was asked to name their preferred XI for that opening Ashes Test, five of the 14 included both. If they were asked today that number could well double.
It is possible to view Finn and Bresnan as an odd couple in fast-bowling terms: Finn, a rake of a man from Watford 6ft 8in tall and built to extract bounce, Bresnan, merely 6ft, a big bottomed lad from Pontefract, stockier, who wears batsmen down. Both have risen almost without trace. Bresnan first played for England in 2006 when the Sri Lankans were rampant wherever they went and he looked lost. But the selectors, who deserve credit, persevered. He was called up for a couple of Tests against the West Indies last summer and performed adequately, no more.
Finn, meanwhile, bowled himself into contention with his form for Middlesex. He delivered 418 overs, took 50 wickets and tellingly came under the tutelage for the first time of Angus Fraser, Middlesex director of cricket. Neither Bresnan nor Finn, however, was selected for England's winter Test tours. And then the injuries started. In Bangladesh things changed for ever.
Bresnan, who had bowled with urgency and vigour on one-day cricket all winter, was asked to stay on. Finn was called up as cover and played in the warm-up match. Both were picked in both Tests, both looked the part.
Their continuing form at the start of this season (and Bresnan's influential role in England's World Twenty20 triumph) has forced the selectors' hand. The pair gave audiences at Lord's yesterday and looked wholly at home.
Finn said: "I wasn't expecting this 18 months ago or even six months ago. Playing a Test at Lord's, is something I've dreamt about since I first came to watch a Test here in 2001 when Ryan Sidebottom made his debut." Finn was 12 then, he is only 21 now. It is clear that Fraser, late of this parish, has had a dramatic effect. Fraser was a bowler (and a man) who cared and he has passed that on to Finn. "Gus has brought discipline, an analytical approach to the way I bowl," Finn said. "There's a lot more thought that goes into what I do, the working out of batsmen, the way it really hurts me when I give away runs. I hate it, just as much as Gus did. He would stand there swearing, punching himself. He's helped bring into my game a lot more discipline and it's important I carry that into any sort of cricket I play."
He seems to know his game uncommonly well for one so young, aware that the situation of a game may dictate the type of bowler he must be. He would not mind falling somewhere between Glenn McGrath and an outright strike bowler, a happy medium indeed.
Something else that Fraser has imbued will strike a chord with old bowlers everywhere. "He's a believer in just bowling and bowling. That will get you fit and that will teach you how to bowl. I believe in that too." There is not an ounce of spare flesh on Finn, though he assures that he is like Arnold Schwarzenegger now compared to the beanpole he was as a 15-year-old. His uncle used to refer to him as X-ray boy.
This allegation could never have been levelled at Bresnan. When he was first around the England team he looked too bulky. Sturdiness was threatening to become something less appealing.
"I've worked hard. I wasn't the fittest I could have been two years ago and the realisation of what it takes to be a Test cricketer hit home against the West Indies," he said. "You have to be 100 per cent, 100 per cent of the time. It has been a long process for me getting fit and I had a few injuries as well."
Bresnan, being a plain-speaking Yorkshireman, has never doubted his talent, his ability to display it on the international stage and was not surprised to be picked for the Test. He will always be chosen as a bowler first but he has it in him to be an authentic all-rounder.
"I was confident, I did myself a lot of favours in Bangladesh in the way I bowled and batted," he said. "I needed a good start to the county season as well and if I did that I knew I would be difficult to leave out. Bangladesh happened by chance with a few injuries but I grabbed that chance with both hands."
The future can sometimes take a long time in coming. For Finn and Bresnan the feeling is that it has arrived and is here to stay.
Review system dumped
The much-vaunted but contentious Decision Review System will not be used in England's Test series against Bangladesh. Although it is now official ICC policy for all Test series to have the system it is understood that no agreement could be reached on who paid for it this summer. Sky, the host broadcaster, seems anxious for some contribution from the governing body.
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