Sri Lanka vs England: Harry Gurney mines different seam to make ODI breakthrough


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The Independent Online

Among the more prized assets sought by cricket teams is a left-arm swing bowler. It changes angles, methods, moods and sometimes matches. Mitchell Johnson, the leading modern practitioner, was made world cricketer of the year last week for the second time and the verdict was beyond debate.

Partly because of Johnson’s menace, undoubtedly heightened by the trajectory, everybody wants one. On the other hand, nobody expects Harry Gurney to do for England what Johnson has achieved for Australia. But it is precisely Gurney’s angle of attack that has persuaded the selectors to take him to Sri Lanka and, they would like to think, the World Cup next year.

In the pecking order that has gradually taken shape since Gurney made his first appearance for England last May in Aberdeen, he is probably nearer the foot. But the selectors would love him to demonstrate in the next month in Sri Lanka he is worth taking to the World Cup.

Gurney is an adept death bowler and the 5.32 runs per over he has conceded in his seven matches compares reasonably with his right-arm rivals. But nothing has conveyed the impression that he is quite the man to complement Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, who are not in Sri Lanka but are both expected to return for the World Cup next year. Gurney knows why he is in Colombo.

“I’m the only left-armer involved here and I hope I can offer something a little bit different,” he said yesterday as England buckled down to some serious training at the venerable SSC ground. “So when the selectors sit down to pick that squad, I hope I get my place.

“From a personal perspective, my aim here is to try to cement that spot and get on that plane to Australia. I’m very confident. I think I’ve got a lot to offer. With Jimmy dropping out reasonably late on and not being replaced, it means all of the seamers in the squad are going to get more opportunity and more time in the limelight to show what we’ve got.”

What Gurney does not have, and what not even his most fervent admirers would suggest he does, is an aptitude for batting or fielding. He is an old-fashioned cricketer in that sense. He bowls and that’s it.

“As a No 11, you might get a chance to go in and win a World Cup final,” he said. “So you’ve always got to be  on that batting. Obviously, your main focus is going to be your main skill.

“But I’m constantly working every day on my fielding, as is everyone. The more runs you can save, and the higher percentage of catches you can take, the better. It’s a percentage game. If you can deliver all those skills consistently you’re going to be on the winning side more often than not.”

So far, however, it is fair to report that Gurney has looked rustic with the bat and unreliable in the deep field. He is less surprised than he was earlier this year to be playing international cricket. But it is still a world he never expected to inhabit.

Only three other left-arm seamers have played for England in ODIs – John Lever, Alan Mullally and Ryan Sidebottom. None managed to make a lasting impression. This is Gurney’s chance.