England wait on spearhead Harmison after new boys leave opinion divided

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The Independent Online

England's inability to dismiss Sri Lanka for a second time in the first Test will inevitably lead to questions being asked about the quality of the home side's bowling. Dropped catches were cited as the reason for England's failure to take 10 Sri Lankan wickets in 199 overs of toil, but it will not take long before a finger or two is pointed at Liam Plunkett, Sajid Mahmood and Monty Panesar, who each made their home debuts at Lord's.

With Stephen Harmison, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles out injured, these three rookies gave England supporters a glimpse of what their bowling attack may look like in three years time. Some observers may have walked away from their armchairs on Monday evening feeling upbeat about the future, others slightly disillusioned.

From an England perspective it was disappointing to see Sri Lanka hang on for a draw, even though it was richly deserved, and it would be unfair to blame the bowlers for the result and make changes to the squad for the second Test. Plunkett, Mahmood and Panesar performed admirably with each showing promise, and despite what happened at Lord's, England remain favourites to win the three-Test series.

Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard could have given little more than they did and the pair will sleep well this week after sharing 128.3 overs in the match.

Of the three newcomers Mahmood started the strongest, taking three cheap wickets during an explosive spell at the start of Sri Lanka's first innings. His hostility highlighted the threat he could become but he faded as the Test wore on. Mahmood is tall and athletic but he needs to get fitter and stronger.

As he tired his head and front arm fell away and he began slinging the ball down. He needs to stay tall and keep his action high so that he delivers the ball from its highest point. Bounce allied with pace are the commodities batsmen hate most.

Mahmood faded yet Plunkett got stronger. Nerves seemed to get the better of him in his opening spell of the Test, but when he settled he bowled well. His run up and action are a concern - he appears not to bowl from a solid platform - but it is easy to see why coach Duncan Fletcher rates him so highly. He is fit, strong, talented and he works hard.

For some inexplicable reason Panesar was used as a last resort during the final two days of the Test. He rarely bowled at the Nursery End, the end where Philip Tufnell slogged away for 20 years, and will be remembered most for his fielding.

The Lord's quintet appear set to get back Harmison, their lead violinist, in Birmingham but Fletcher will not pick his spearhead unless he is convinced that he is fully fit. Harmison returned home after England's Test victory in Bombay with a shin injury and he has played only one game of cricket in the last month.

"Hopefully he'll be fit for the next Test, but we have to be very, very careful about his fitness," Fletcher said. "There is a lot of cricket ahead of us and if we rush him and there is a problem we're going to have to rest him again later on. We have to make sure that every player is fully fit when they come back to play for us.

"He's only played one one-day game so far after two months off, so we will have to see how fit he is. There's a good chance he'll be called up into the squad [for Edgbaston] and we will analyse him, but he's only got one four-day game to get himself right." Durham begin a Championship match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge today.

The verdict on England's bowling at Lord's

Andrew Flintoff

Flintoff may have made mistakes but it is impossible to criticise his commitment or effort when bowling, where he led from the front. Flintoff took only four wickets in 68.3 energy-sapping overs, but he cannot perform miracles in every game. His workload needs to be monitored to reduce the chance of injury.

Matthew Hoggard

Hoggard, like Flintoff, has never bowled more overs in a Test match and he too bowled well. He took on the responsibility of leading an inexperienced attack and did everything his captain asked of him. His six-wicket haul took him past 200 Test wickets and into the top 10 England wicket-takers.

Sajid Mahmood

Mahmood must have thought Test cricket was a piece of cake after taking 3 for 0 in nine balls on Friday. But the three days he then spent in the field would have given him a better idea of what Tests are about. He has what it takes to succeed but he needs to bowl more. Then his consistency and fitness will improve.

Liam Plunkett

Plunkett picked up one solitary wicket but for the last two days of the Test he was England's best bowler. He bowled an excellent line and consistently moved the ball down the Lord's slope, beating the bat on countless occasions. If he continues to bowl like this he will take wickets.

Monty Panesar

England made a big mistake by bowling Panesar for only 12 overs on the final two days. His wily left-arm spin took two important wickets on Saturday yet his longest spell after this was four overs. Panesar's bowling offers encouragement but he needs to improve his fielding before the jovial jeering becomes scornful.

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