Nowhere are the vagaries of swing bowling more apparent than here at Trent Bridge, the venue where England this morning take on New Zealand in the series-deciding third Test. It was such a style of bowling, perfected by the brilliant Zaheer Khan, which helped bring India success here last summer and it is expected to be the leather throwers that move the ball before it pitches who most test the technique and resilience of each team's batsmen over the next five days.
Both sides are well-armed to exploit the conditions. In Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad England have two fast bowlers playing at their home ground. Broad, in his first season with Nottinghamshire, is still acclimatising but Sidebottom, with five years of experience here, should set the example. James Anderson has enjoyed bowling here too, taking 5 for 103 against South Africa in 2003.
New Zealand are not short of swingers either. Chris Martin and Kyle Mills are both capable of curving the ball in the air, as is Tim Southee, who is expected to replace into-the-wind specialist Iain O'Brien. Jacob Oram, the Black Caps' stoic all-rounder, is the only straight man but he should be able to extract seam movement from a soft, greenish pitch.
The bowler-friendly conditions should mean batsmen have to work hard, and long may that continue. If Test cricket in England is to maintain its fan base and compete with Twenty20 it must produce intriguing and entertaining cricket and the best way of doing this is by playing on pitches that encourage bowlers. Cricket is at its most entertaining when runs are being scored and wickets taken.
In recent times Trent Bridge has produced such cricket, but it has not always been the case. In the mid-90s very few bowlers looked forward to a trip to Nottingham. The pitches were dead and there was precious little for a bowler to work with. The cricket was dour. Four of the seven Tests between 1990 and 1997 were draws, 13 hundreds were scored and only five five-wicket hauls taken.
All that changed in 1998 with the building of the Radcliffe Road Stand. It altered the atmospherics and suddenly the ball began to swing. The cricket played here since has been far more interesting, with seven of the nine Tests producing positive results. Batsmen have still prospered – 13 hundreds have been struck – but bowlers now have a chance, with 11 five-wicket hauls being taken. Three of the hauls have been by spinners, so Monty Panesar and Daniel Vettori could play a pivotal role too.
Further development of the ground has since taken place. The Fox Road Stand was built in 2002 and a bright new structure on the Bridgford Road side of the ground will make its Test debut today. The additions have reportedly made the ground even friendlier for bowlers. In three county championship matches here this summer the average first-innings score is 214 and length of innings 67 overs. Those spectators who were hoping to come along on the fourth and fifth day would be well advised to get here earlier.
Kevin Pietersen gave England a scare yesterday when Broad struck him on the index finger of his right hand, but he will feature in an unchanged side. It is the first time in 124 years England have picked the same XI for five consecutive Tests.
The challenge for England's seamers is to modify their bowling to the conditions. At Old Trafford the tactic was to bully the New Zealand batsmen with short stuff: here they will need to pitch the ball up. It sounds easy but it isn't.
"The strength of our attack lies with swing bowling," said Michael Vaughan, the England captain. "Ryan and Jimmy [Anderson] are that type of bowler, whereas Broady is more hit-the-pitch. It was exciting to see them bowl as they did at Old Trafford but hopefully they will become a unit that can bowl in all conditions. They should get lots of opportunities to swing the ball this week.
"The lads have been saying that 84 per cent of the catches taken here this season have been behind the batsman, which suggests the ball has been moving about and that there are plenty of opportunities to find the edge. We realise it will be a swinging kind of week but, as a batsman, if you see off the first 30 overs you then have an opportunity to post a big score."
In an attempt to increase the swing New Zealand may wear "micro-shine" trousers made of a material that makes it easier to shine a ball. The strides are not due to be worn officially until October, but a player or two may trial them here.
Vaughan did not seem too worried. He said: "I think Yorkshire have been wearing them but it hasn't helped them." New Zealand, it seems, may need more if they are to add lustre to their game.
The wicket is expected to be slow and reasonably soft. There should be plenty of seam movement, which – allied to the predicted Trent Bridge swing – will make life hard for the batsmen.Reuse content