Lewis expands horizons of 'English' bowling

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The Independent Online

Jon Lewis is not the first England player to be pigeonholed as an English-style bowler, and he will not be the last to take offence at the generalisation.

When fast-bowling legends like Alec Bedser and Brian Statham were setting standards the comment would have been treated as a compliment, because it suggested that you were strong, wholehearted, skilful and consistent.

But modern bowlersare expected to be flexible, dashing, daring and cute. They must bowl slower balls, faster balls, inswingers, out-swingers, bouncers and yorkers. And when reverse swing is brought into the equation? A bowler needs an eight-ball over to go through his repertoire.

Lewis, who took a career-best 4 for 36 against Australia on Friday, does not want to be viewed as he is, even though he is an English-style seamer, because it suggests he is limited in how and where he can take wickets. I was placed in a similar bracket, and it probably cost me 20 Tests.

"It is something I have been labelled with and it is something I have to deal with," he said here yesterday, on the eve of England's Commonwealth Bank series match against New Zealand. "I have never thought of myself as an English-style bowler. I have always believed that I can bowl at any place across the world at any time, and the fact that I have taken wickets here, and in the one-dayers in England at the end of last summer, may help remove the illusion that I can only take wickets in May in England."

Lewis' pedigree is questioned because he is not particularly tall or fast. But he is competitive and has an excellent chance of making the World Cup XV because he is strong, wholehearted, skilful and consistent. The 31-year-old has these attributes because he has been playing county cricket for Gloucestershire for more than a decade and during several winters when he has not been involved with England he has played a high level of cricket abroad.

Lewis' development is the antithesis of James Anderson, Sajid Mahmood, Chris Tremlett and Liam Plunkett, the other fast bowlers in England's one-day squad. These were identified as outstanding prospects at a young age, and have spent most of their careers in the pampered and overcoached world of the national academy. And there are many, myself included, who believe that the sanitised nature of this existence does not fully prepare cricketers for a Test or one-day international.

Lewis has done both. "I am secure in the knowledge of what I do, and county cricket has a lot to do with that," he said. "You need to know your own game, and if you don't have that when the pressure is on you have nothing to fall back on."

* The Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, has said he is "open to offers" from the England and Wales Cricket Board to take over from Duncan Fletcher as England coach after the World Cup.