Question time as England's wayward workers suffer bad day at the office

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The Independent Online

The inquests will continue for a long time. How could a group of bowlers who had destroyed South Africa in the one-day final 12 days earlier at Lord's have bowled so badly on the first day at Edgbaston? Of course there is no simple answer. A combination of events all contrived to happen at the same time.

The first of these was that England's bowlers all had a bad day at the office at precisely the same time. This can happen to any side, although it is a more seldom occurrence with the best sides. It would stretch the imagination a bit to suggest that Steve Waugh's Australians might have a similar day.

James Anderson started off at the Pavilion End, as he had done in England's last one-day round-robin match against South Africa. Then, he gave away 19 runs in his first over before gritting his teeth and taking 3 for 19 in his remaining nine overs.

Now, although he made a numerically more economical start, he was all over the place, and it grew progressively worse for him. Anderson is just 20 and inexperienced. One could sense him trying harder and harder as he ran to the wicket, but the rhythm that he had somehow found on the earlier occasion never returned.

He looked short of cricket, and England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, will surely have regretted his decision not to allow Anderson to play for Lancashire in their four-day game against Kent at Blackpool the previous week.

Anderson needs all the experience he can get. Experience will not teach him to bowl better deliveries than he does now, but it will teach him to bowl fewer bad balls.

England's bowling coach, the Australian Troy Cooley, may also be guilty of trying to teach Anderson too much in the way of variations, cluttering up his mind before he has got full control of the basic essentials, although inexperienced youngsters will always have their bad days.

His new-ball partner, Darren Gough, showed conclusively that he has reached fast-bowling old age. He is no longer the tearaway strike bowler of yore. He is slower, and now tries to put the ball in the right place rather than make it explode at the batsman, as he was once able to do.

Steve Harmison runs in with great spirit, but he has not yet learned to exploit that tantalising length which has the batsman in two minds as to whether he should play off the back or the front foot. Harmison either bangs it in very short or bowls fullish half-volleys, neither of which leaves the batsman in any doubt whatever. He also will learn.

"Freddie" Flintoff was the best of the bowlers, although he also aimed too much at the batsmen's pads. Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten are all formidable players on the leg side. On such an easy pitch as this, it is so important for bowlers to stick as tightly as they can to length and line, but England's bowlers were in a world of their own.

Their success in the recent one-day tournaments came, of course, under Michael Vaughan's captaincy, while Nasser Hussain is now back in charge. They have very different styles of captaincy. While Vaughan is easy-going and inclusive, Hussain is not so relaxed, and is prepared to tick his players off if he feels the need. He is a more remote figure as captain too, and is probably feeling under more pressure after his rival's recent success.

It may be that he handles his bowlers less sympathetically, and that this did not help. Nonetheless, they have all played, and most have prospered, under Hussain's captaincy before, and it is surely fanciful to think that these contrasting approaches could have had anything to do with England's abysmal bowling performance.