Patience is the cure for Harmison & Co on real featherbed
Trescothick's pacemen are learning fast despite a lack of experience of trying conditions
Sunday 13 November 2005
There are times when bowling fast can be fun, and the first day of the First Test here should not have been one of them.
From the moment Matthew Hoggard's first ball hit the pitch and floated through to Geraint Jones yesterday, England's combative pace attack knew they were in for a long, hard day. Yet didn't they do well? The fact that they claimed five of the six Pakistan wickets on this featherbed of a pitch should be considered a major achievement.
Those England bowlers who had not toured this part of the world before would have been given a false impression of what it is like to play here during the two warm-up matches. The pitches in Rawalpindi and Lahore offered the fast bowlers assistance but at the Multan Cricket Ground there was nothing for them to work with.
No bowling career should be considered complete unless it has contained a tour of Asia. I did not play Test cricket on the subcontinent - England only toured India once during the Nineties - and it is something I look back on with regret because, in many ways, it is the ultimate test for a fast bowler.
To succeed here, you need to do more than just dob the ball on a good length and wait for it to nip around off the seam. You have to show skill, cunning, imagination, flexibility and perseverance, or be frighteningly quick, to take wickets.
I found this out during a two-week training camp in Lahore in 1999. In the couple of practice matches England played there before they set off for a tournament in Sharjah, I bowled my usual stuff - back of a length, on or around off stump.
But it did nothing. There was no sideways movement, no pace or bounce, nothing. And before too long the wristy local batsmen were clipping good-length balls through midwicket for runs. I did not know what to do and had no other gameplan to fall back on.
Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff learned these skills when they toured Pakistan and Sri Lanka during the winter of 2000-01. Neither played a Test, yet they would have noticed the contrasting experiences of England's two strike bowlers, Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough.
Gough, at 5ft 10in, has always had to think of unconventional ways to take wickets, and his bowling was one of the principal reasons why England had such a successful winter. Caddick, meanwhile, was reluctant to move away from the "hit the top of off-stump" tactic which had brought him success in the past.
Caddick plodded away on a good length but his three wickets in Pakistan cost him 94 runs each. He eventually attempted a slower ball in Sri Lanka, and it took him a wicket.
Hoggard gave the new ball every chance to swing in his opening spell yesterday, and when he came back in the afternoon he bowled cutters, tried swingers, the odd bouncer and slower balls. He had to wait until the arrival of the second new ball before he took his first wicket but he set a wonderful example throughout the day.
Marcus Trescothick set intelligent fields and England never allowed the Pakistan batsmen to settle or get on top. Trescothick's captaincy was astute and many of his tactics bore the fingerprint of Michael Vaughan.
Flintoff, as we have come to expect, was excellent. By his own high standards he was expensive but that was because he tried different things. Simon Jones is the closest bowler to Gough in the current England set-up, and his absence left the tourists with a void that required filling.
Flintoff filled it, bowling bouncers with a man out on the hook shot and looking for the in-swinging yorker, so elusive to find and so difficult to play. He may have been lucky with his first wicket - leg before, but the ball was probably going over the top - but he fully deserved the scalp of Mohammad Yousuf, who failed to get his bat down on a fast yorker and was bowled.
England keep stating that they are trying to look after Flintoff by regulating the number of overs he bowls, but this is an unrealistic aim when he is consistently the best bowler.
Captains will find it easier to achieve this goal if the other bowlers give him support, and Stephen Harmison showed yesterday that there is more to his bowling than brute strength and ignorance. In the build-up to this Test match, he accepted that there may be times when he has to sit back and bowl line and length, and he did just this before tea, when his initial 10 overs conceded just 13 runs. His patience was rewarded when he took the wickets of Younis Khan and Hasan Raza in the first over after the interval.
England's spinners, Ashley Giles and Shaun Udal, provided decent support, but on his Test debut Udal was the pick of the two. Trescothick should have bowled Udal before the 43rd over since early involvement would have helped to settle his nerves, but his off-spin troubled Pakistan's batsmen far more than that of Giles, who struggled to find the correct pace to bowl at on the pitch.
Giles's designated role in the side has encouraged him to bowl flatter and faster but this pitch was offering a modicum of spin when the ball was bowled at a slower pace, and in an effort to do this he sent down several full tosses.
The only concern for England is that the pitch is already taking spin and Pakistan's Danish Kaneria is a fine leg-spin bowler.
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