Butcher may take chance with early operation

Angus Fraser
Friday 27 December 2013 05:36

The welfare of Surrey's Mark Butcher and the possible inclusion in the final XI of the Glamorgan fast bowler Simon Jones would have been the conversations of most interest when England's four selectors met to consider their squad for the third Test against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford.

Whether either will appear on Nasser Hussain's final teamsheet on Thursday morning is questionable, but both can expect their names to feature when an unchanged squad is likely to be announced at 10.15am today.

Being 1-0 up in a best-of-three series they are desperate to win will undoubtedly influence the final decision and most attention will surround the fitness of Butcher, an increasingly influential team member.

This week has not been a good one for him. The news that he requires surgery on his left knee would only have been compounded by the punishment dished out to him for the public comments he made about the legitimacy of the bowling action of the Sri Lankan left-arm seamer Ruchira Perera.

The combination of injury, which affects but does not yet incapacitate the left-handed batsman, and the hearing that awaits his objection to the £1,000 fine imposed on him for the misdemeanor by Gerald Elias QC, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board disciplinary committee, could send Butcher to Old Trafford for this vital game with other things on his mind. It could be enough to convince the selectors that maybe now is the right time for him to go and get his knee operated on.

The chances of Jones making his debut are slim and will show if England are prepared to gamble. Jones impressed everyone with his pace, athleticism and attitude during his time at Edgbaston but it is unlikely that the selectors, even though their desire to find an out-and-out quick bowler is strong, will be prepared to take such a risk at this stage of a series.

Alex Tudor would have to miss out, which would be unfair after only one game back. But the desire of Hussain and the England coach Duncan Fletcher to find a bowler with genuine pace remains high on their list of priorities. There is no doubt pace is important. Fast bowlers, like great spinners, can quickly change the course of a match, because the quickest can somehow extract life from even the flattest pitch.

However, pace is not everything. If combined with control, it can transform an ordinary bowler into a world beater but, if not, as is generally the case, it has to be backed up by a good, disciplined attack.

The quickest two in the world at the moment are Brett Lee from Australia and Shoaib Akhtar from Pakistan. Both can run through sides, but at times even they are something of a luxury. Neither are currently in the top 10 of the world rankings – dominated by spinners or high-quality fast-medium bowlers.

While England have two in the top 10, Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough, who average 29.12 and 27.57, one only has to look at the number of spinners in the list, four, and the bowling averages of the two highest-ranked fast bowlers to see what England are missing. Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock average 21.91 and 20.72 runs per wicket respectively. Neither has blistering pace, but both are relentless in the way they go about strangling a batsmen of runs and if there is a bit in the pitch, they pounce for the kill.

Because of the control and wickets they offer, both Australia, in Lee, and South Africa, in Mornantau Hayward, can afford to gamble on an out-and-out fast bowler. It means that the responsibility of allowing England the luxury to play one relies on the consistency of their fast/medium men.

In the last Test, Caddick and Matthew Hoggard were outstanding, winning the game on essentially a good batting track. However at Lord's they were disappointing. Only when they can be relied upon in every game and take their wickets at a similar average to McGrath and Pollock will playing the likes of Jones seem a low-risk gamble worth taking.

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