Time for bowlers to use their heads more
Sunday 25 July 2004
Bowling on a pitch that is flat and lifeless is a thankless task. Yet it is one, which, judging by the scores that are regularly being made in Test cricket round the world, is becoming the lot of bowlers.
Bowling on a pitch that is flat and lifeless is a thankless task. Yet it is one, which, judging by the scores that are regularly being made in Test cricket round the world, is becoming the lot of bowlers. Those who succeed are the out-and-out quicks: the Donalds, the McGraths, the Lees, the Shoaib Akhtars of this world, or the freak spinners like Shane Warne, Murali Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq.
England's ranks contain none of the above although Stephen Harmison is close to becoming a fast bowler who will cause problems on any surface quicker than a plateful of blancmange. He is not quite there yet as we have seen in this Test although in the Fourth Test of the winter in Antigua on a pitch that was sprightlier than this one, he bowled extremely well without much luck.
On a surface like this at Lord's, variety is important. So too is the ability to analyse the batsmen and to deduce. The lack of thought and deduction in the England camp was most noticeable by the way they bowled at Shivnarine Chanderpaul. This fidgety left-hander with his exaggerated two-eyed stance is a capable batsman with a Test average of over 40.
None the less it is clear that he is much happier when the ball is bowled at his legs and he can twiddle it away on the leg side. When the ball is pitched up, on or just outside his off stump, he finds it much more difficult to score runs for his technique and his footwork are now not so sound. Unless the ball is banged in short and gives him the chance to square cut or play that sumptuous drive off the back foot through the covers, he has a problem.
Chanderpaul's vulnerability on the front foot may have something to do with a stance that almost rivals Peter Willey's, to say nothing of Jim Parks or Ken Barrington. Although Chanderpaul is on the move to straighten up before the bowler has let the ball go, he still cannot be as well balanced as he would be from an orthodox stance when it comes to playing forward on or outside the off stump. If the bowlers could not work it out for themselves, why did not the bevy of wise men in the dressing room get off their behinds and send a message out?
For the first part of his innings especially, all of England's bowlers gave him the chance to indulge himself on the leg side. With fielders around the bat it was a waste of time for Ashley Giles to bowl on middle stump with the ball turning into the left-hander, who merely helped it on. And on Friday evening in particular, the bowlers never learned the folly of their ways.
If they could not see it for themselves, why, oh why, were they not told or were they unable to do what they were told? They began to get it right with the second new ball when Matthew Hoggard had Ridley Jacobs, another left-hander, reaching outside off stump and getting an edge. Harmison also bowled better to Chanderpaul. Someone had had a brainstorm.
The other mystery about England's performance was the appearance of Andrew Flintoff to bowl the 76th over when the West Indies were 276 for 5. Presumably medical opinion had been sought before he was asked to turn his arm over. If he received a medical OK at 276 for 5, why was it not OK at 40 for no wicket on Friday afternoon when a contribution from the aggressive Flintoff would have been an infinitely more significant contribution?
After tea when he removed Omari Banks and Tino Best with successive balls, and then Pedro Collins, he was back to his thrilling best. The dressing room said they had needed time to see how he reacted to a net on Friday. Reason or excuse? Does 24 hours make such a difference?
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