No variety leaves tourists in spin
Sunday 24 February 2008
Options, options, options. That is what captains require when Plan A has disappeared into the 17th row of the grandstand, but for the third consecutive occasion in New Zealand, England's selection policy deprived captain Paul Collingwood of any choices.
In Auckland, England overcame the handicap of picking an unbalanced side and a bowling attack lacking variety to gain their sole one-day victory of the tour. But in Napier, where they could not defend 340, and here in Christchurch, it contributed significantly to their downfall.
At the toss yesterday, it was obvious that one side had got it wrong. New Zealand selected two spinners for a series-deciding match but England chose to omit Graeme Swann and pick six seamers of varying pace and ability. The result, a comfortable four-wicket victory and a 3-1 series triumph for the Black Caps, highlights England's flawed thinking.
One-day international cricket is predominantly about batsmen scoring runs but there is no point omitting bowlers to fill the side with willow wielders. A bowler can have an enormous influence on a match, especially a good spinner, and each team should select a minimum of three pacemen for every game.
Unfortunately for England, it can hardly be said that James Anderson and Stuart Broad are models of consistency. Broad is young and inexperienced so his unpredictability should be tolerated, but Anderson, who has disappeared in all but the Auckland match and conceded almost seven-and-a-half runs per over throughout the series, is in a precarious situation.
Anderson has been playing ODI cricket for more than five years now but his career does not seem to be going anywhere. There have been times when the 25-year-old has been exceptional and his record, overall, is very respectable. But with 86 games and 121 wickets to his name, he should be leading England's attack rather than looking like a novice.
He seems incapable or unprepared to bowl six consecutive balls on the same spot. Patience is not one of his virtues. From the outside, it seems he chooses to go in search of wickets rather than wait for them to come through miserly bowling.
Bouncers, attempted yorkers, slower balls; in every over Anderson seems to want to go through his whole repertoire. Very few, if any, bowlers can control such variation, and Anderson's approach is not helping his cause.
With his form and confidence low, England had to pick a fourth specialist bowler, and it should have been Swann. Selecting him would have been at the expense of Dimitri Mascarenhas or Luke Wright. That would weaken England's batting, but good teams do not look to No 7 and No8 to get them out of trouble – they provide the icing; it is the responsibility of Nos 1 to 6 to produce a cake with substance.
The problem for England is they do not appear to rate Swann. England's off-spinner had an excellent one-day tour of Sri Lanka last October but his stock has fallen. The size and peculiar shape of a couple of grounds here has influenced England's decision-making but they do not seem to have affected the contributions of Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel.
Vettori is the joint top wicket-taker in the series and Patel conceded 3.2 runs per over in the two games he played. England's batsmen came to terms with Vettori just once – in Napier – and his left-arm spin had a huge influence.
The return to fitness of Andrew Flintoff would make a huge difference, as would Monty Panesar developing some of Vettori's dexterity. But if neither makes the progress every England fan wants, the wait for England to become a major force will continue.
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