Pearson gives England a cutting edge

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The Bankstown Oval knows a thing or two about great cricketing deeds. The Waugh twins spent their formative years in the place. But it can have seen few performances to match that of Lucy Pearson last February.

The England seamer had match figures of 11 for 107 in the Second Test against Australia. Only two players in the history of the women's game had achieved the feat. It was a thrilling exhibition of the left-arm swing bowler's craft, and it demonstrated that England are at last, in one species of the game at least, closing the gap on the oldest enemy.

Pearson's remarkable efforts (7 for 51 and 4 for 56) means that much of the attention will be on her when England resume action against South Africa on Thursday. She is in good form, she is exuding confidence.

"I have made a massive leap," she said. "I have been playing for England since 1995, but it takes years to understand your own game. That's what I feel I do now. I know where I'm putting the ball. I can bowl a couple of in-duckers and then bowl one going the other way, which is not something that women batsmen necessarily spot."

England are favourites for both the two-match Test series which begins at Shenley and for the three-match one-day rubber. South Africa might have beaten England in the last World Cup, but they are rebuilding. As England showed in the winter, their reconstruction is nigh complete.

Their recently departed coach, John Harmer, made them fitter, hungrier and better. Pearson, for instance, learned the importance both of bowling in mini-sets of two balls and bowling in pairs. "Try to bowl two dot balls, then try to do something different for balls three and four. Don't concede four off the last ball so that pressure is relieved. And if your partner has bowled a maiden, build on it."

If there is a criticism of women's cricket, which can be skilful and graceful, it is that its Test version has the cap-acity for monumental tedium. Since the first in 1934 (a nine-wicket win for England), 70 per cent of Tests have been drawn.

"Part of the difficulty is that the only cricket we play other than Test cricket is limited-overs," said Pearson. "This isn't good preparation, so either we play shots like we would in the short game or we think we've got all the time in the world. I like playing Test cricket because it really does give you a chance to display all the skills." Pearson's argument is understandable, but the kernel of all women's cricket will surely be 50-over games. Those alone will help to broaden its profile.

It has undoubtedly helped that England's captain, Clare Connor, a bristlingly attractive all-rounder, has been such an articulate and knowledgeable presence on Channel 4. Connor will lead England in the next three weeks. With Pearson to lead the attack, she should lead them to victory.