The Light Roller: Five tests to work this England team out

Diary of a cricket obsessive

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The Independent Online

Cook's revival will require an improvement on his Trent Bridge past

In the days of yore, Alastair Cook would not be leading England out against India at Trent Bridge tomorrow.  He would have been replaced after the Ashes or the loss to Sri Lanka. Even without obvious alternatives in the current first XI, somebody would have been plucked from county cricket, Chris Cowdrey-like, to do the job. As it is, the 21st century is a kinder place and it seems that Cook will have five tests to prove himself anew. 

Trent Bridge is the best place in England to watch a test match.  It is also a happy hunting ground for the national team, and particularly the pair who will open the bowling this week.  Stuart Broad, for whom the turf is now home (inasmuch as an international cricketer can regard their county ground as home) has taken 21 test wickets there at 22.76.  Jimmy Anderson has 49 at 17.34.  Much will rest on their shoulders, not least because of the remaining question marks over England's ability to compete if spin plays a major part in the game.

Unfortunately, Cook himself has few personal happy memories from Nottingham tests to fall back on.  In seven matches at the venue, he has just one fifty at an average of 21.50. If this is the place where Cook begins his personal revival, he will have to summon up something very special indeed. 


Freddie's return may be the exception that proves the rule

They say you should never go back. It is certainly hard to think of many sporting comebacks that that have gone especially well.

Cricket, however, offers greater potential than most other games for things to pan out alright. It does not, despite the advances of recent times, require quite the fitness levels of some sports.

Martin Crowe's return to club cricket in New Zealand three years ago may have been ended by a twanged muscle just a few balls in - but that was more or less in keeping with his career, and he was 49 at the time.  More positively, Phil Edmonds popped on some whites for Middlesex when need arose in 1992, some five years after retirement, and promptly took 4-48 in a Championship game.

There is, therefore, some reason to suppose that Andrew Flintoff's return for Lancashire in the Big Bash at the age of 36 can be successful. Some regard it as simply an ego trip. But the English county game needs icons - even those that are past their prime - so Flintoff's wickets against Worcestershire should be welcomed with long applause.


KP good enough for England?  Not by a country mile

Another faded icon of the English game, Kevin Pietersen, shows no sign of his mischief-making powers being on the wane. His remarks about wanting to make a return for England are laughable not so much because of the way his international career apparently ended but simply because his recent form has been so poor.

He should have been the star of Surrey’s Big Bash side.  But, in fact, he has scored only 47 runs in five innings.  Even more weirdly, he has a lower strike-rate than any other player to have batted more than once for Surrey in this year’s competition.  Despite pre-season chatter, Pietersen has not appeared in the Championship at all.

In his last 16 matches for England, KP averaged only 36.83, with ever-decreasing returns over the four series he played in.

If a player is performing brilliantly there should be room for them in a team, especially a mediocre one, even if they sometimes rub other people up the wrong way.  But in recent times, Pietersen's performances with the bat suggest he's an absolute country mile away from any longer being good enough.


Surrey's youngsters are leading from the front in Smith's absence

Earlier in the season the Roller expressed some doubts about Surrey's ability to meet the expectations of fans who believed that Graeme Smith's helmsmanship would assure promotion.

There was never any doubt as to the quality of the county's youngsters: a visit to the Oval last September had been convincing enough. But Surrey's early-season form under Smith was ropey to say the least.

Since the captain departed – again – following injury, fortunes have changed. Two of those who had the Roller rocking with appreciation last autumn, Matt Dunn and Zafar Ansari, have led the way. But there have been top-notch performances throughout the youthful team.

Surrey's chiefs may still be content to play a long game but to see the team pushing for promotion after such a dismal start to the season must be a joy to see.