Peril of bowling Flintoff into the ground

First Test: Captain shows over-reliance on pace pair but he may need to call more on Jones, a victim of careless hands
  • @stephenbrenkley

In the first innings, when Australia rolled over like teddy bears in the face of short, high-speed bowling, Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff bowled 11.2 overs and 11 overs respectively. In the second innings, when the tourists stood up like grizzlies, England's fastest pair each bowled 27 overs, nine more than anybody else.

Since discomforting pace was always at the core of England's strategy, this is entirely expected. Whatever happens now, by the end of the series Harmison and Flintoff can expect to have been bowled into the ground unless Australia reprise their Paddington act.

There is another, slightly worrying factor about the man who bowled the fewest overs and what that might mean for the quest of the next eight weeks. The clear water of the strategy was muddied by four dropped catches in Australia's second innings, three of them yesterday and all of them off Simon Jones. It was oafish fielding and will have done nothing for Jones. There are old bowlers around who suspect that he could yet have a singificant influence on the home side's fortunes. Not if they keep shelling them.

Who bowls when is partly down to gameplan, partly down to events, partly down to the preference of the captain. There is no doubt that Harmison and Flintoff pose the greater threat - they attack the batsmen - and Vaughan seems to prefer them. Jones bowled 18 overs, Matthew Hoggard 16.

Flintoff was kept going, although for a couple of days he kept bowling "four" balls. His first four overs yesterday went for 24 runs. This cannot be expected to happen throughout the rubber, otherwise England will be in deeper trouble than they are already.

The modus operandi suggests that they will always concede runs. In the first innings of this match, Australia were collapsing while still booming along at almost five runs an over. That was because both of attacking fields and bowling which allowed the luxury of attacking strokes even when the straits were dire.

In their second innings, Australia's rate was fractionally below their normal rate of four an over, reduced slightly yesterday when one of the factors was not merely to score runs but to get up England's noses.

Then there is Ashley Giles, the renascent left-arm spinner. Because of the manner in which Giles has re-shaped his career in the past year he had been cast in a leading role in this series. It was not one to put his name in lights above the title, à la Harmy and Freddie in The Ashes 2005, but it was definitely of the "Also starring" variety, so you could be certain that this was no humdrum contributor.

Giles has taken plenty of wickets (39 in 10 matches) since he came storming back at Trent Bridge last year, but his part in the Ashes is meant to be that of the side's holding bowler. Essentially, he bottles up an end on many ordinary days, while the others rotate in attacking mode at the other end. He played it to perfection when it mattered in South Africa in the winter.

He was not needed in the first innings here and that only showed how well the seam quartet was doing. But by Friday, Vaughan needed him. Australia did what England feared they might and made it look easy. Even when Giles was coming over the wicket, he could not stop them scoring off him. His nine overs cost 46 runs and two more yesterday morning another 10.

If Giles is going at five an over in the series and not taking any wickets, it augurs dreadfully for England's chances. One sound judge thought Giles's spell on Friday was as pertinent to England's chances of regaining the Ashes (or lack of them) than any other single factor. Giles at least is strong and single-minded enough to dwell on it and work out other ways. He has been in these dark corners before.

None of this should be construed as terminal. But despite the heady moments of Thursday, when anything seemed possible, it was never going to be easy to take 20 wickets against the best side in the world. They showed it yesterday, and maybe they showed it more in the performance of the last three wickets than they did when the fourth-wicket pair were putting on 165 the previous day. That is what fourth-wicket pairs do.

True, England dropped three yesterday but two were very late on, after which only eight runs were added. The last three wickets put on 105, 77 against the second new ball in 20 overs. There were always question marks about the ability of England's batting to cope with Australia's bowling but the problems of bowling them out twice could never be exaggerated. England at least did it cheaply once. Remember, nobody said this was going to be easy.