England's new boys must seize momentum
Onions and Bresnan are in fine form this season – now they must show they have true Test class, writes Stephen Brenkley
Thursday 30 April 2009
Form may be temporary – while class is permanent – but it sure helps. The England selectors finally recognised this yesterday in picking Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan for the opening Test of the summer at Lord's.
They are certain of their form, as Onions confirmed in some style by dismantling the Somerset top order at Taunton yesterday in response to his summons. It will become clear presently if they have the class.
Sometimes decisions on who to play have been made the other way round. Indeed it has become quite the fashion, but this unsung, improbable duo have undoubtedly impressed with their returns at the start of this season.
It is an audacious squad and whatever the selectors implied in announcing the team to play West Indies starting next Wednesday both had fallen off their radar recently. Neither was picked for the senior or Lions squad last winter, neither was nominated only three weeks ago in the 2009 International Performance Squad, from which it can be generally expected that teams for most of the rest of the summer will be picked.
Both men had the good fortune that many bowlers presumably ahead of them in the selectors' thoughts were injured and that they played for four days last week in front of James Whittaker, one of the four-man panel. If his input must have been significant it is not hard to discern the influence of the new coach, Andy Flower, who understands that performances in the County Championship should not be easily dismissed.
The national selector Geoff Miller, clearly relieved to dispel the accusation that the England team was a closed shop, said: "This is very exciting for the two young fast bowlers to be included in the squad for a Lord's Test match and sends out a message to all county players that if they put in consistently good performances they will be recognised."
About time too, it might be thought, though nobody has truly had time to show consistency yet with the second round of Championship games just beginning. But Onions took eight Yorkshire wickets at Chester-le-Street last week and six in Somerset's first innings on a flat Taunton pitch yesterday.
"I was rung by Geoff Miller at 7.30am," he said. "Actually he woke me up and when he told me I was definitely awake. Of course, it's a dream come true and I never expected this. I worked hard in the winter, did a lot of gym work."
Only last week Onions mentioned that the selectors had not been in touch for a while. He comes from Gateshead and is one of a stable of proficient seam bowlers assembled by Durham in the past few years. Stephen Harmison, to whom Onions was preferred yesterday, is the most illustrious but there is also Liam Plunkett and Mark Davies.
Miller said: "The best reaction you'll get is from batsmen and they're very impressed with his quality." Still, Onions' star has risen or risen again extremely rapidly. He suffered a heel injury last summer and lost form badly enough on his return for Durham to omit him for their final three games of the summer when they clinched the Championship.
Bresnan probably owes his place to Andrew Flintoff's injury because he has become almost an authentic all-rounder in Yorkshire's side. He performed both disciplines well in Yorkshire's opening match against Durham last week scoring 40 and 24 and bowling long spells.
"I don't know about filling Freddie's place," he said. "They're big shoes. I'll just play my own game. I'm not looking beyond my debut. We'll see what happens after that."
Bresnan came up through Yorkshire's academy ranks, as Onions did through Durham's, where he came under the aegis of Steve Oldham. "Steve has been a massive influence and he knows me better than I know myself. He only has to see a couple of balls to point out things I'm doing wrong. Even if he's not around he will watch me on tape and send me a text."
Although he is still only 24, Bresnan has been around the Yorkshire team for seven seasons and played one-day cricket for them at 16. He has had a taste of England, having played five one-dayers and been put to the sword by a rampant Sri Lanka in 2006.
It is said that he has gained some pace since then and he will probably need to have done, and it is hinted that he might have gained the odd pound, which is not what England need. He is an efficient cricketer who has improved each season.
Both Onions and Bresnan will probably play next week since it is unlikely that England will field two spinners. They will do so for a side desperate to take 20 wickets and which has not won the first match of a series for four years. It may need both form and class.
England squad for First Test
A J Strauss (capt) 60/32/Middlesex
J M Anderson 35/26/Lancashire
R S Bopara 4/23/Essex
T T Bresnan 0/24/Yorkshire
S C J Broad 15/22/Nottinghamshire
P D Collingwood 46/32/Durham
A N Cook 41/24/Essex
G Onions /0/26/Durham
M S Panesar 38/27/Northants
K P Pietersen 50/28/Nottinghamshire
M J Prior (wk) 16/27/Sussex
G P Swann 5/30/Nottinghamshire
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