By Abhijit Banare
It’s often said that in a Test match, batsmen set up the match and the bowlers win it for the team. Any dominant Test side has had a razor-sharp bowling attack ready to unsettle the batsmen in any condition. England, who are currently the No.1 ranked team in Test cricket have proved themselves boasting a bowling attack which every captain covets. The future course of their domination in the five-day format will depend a lot on the various options available in the pace attack and how well it is utilised.
With James Anderson and Stuart Broad forming the heart of England’s bowling, here’s a look at the other options available:
An aggressive strike bowler Finn is unfortunate to be left out in the competition for the third seamer spot with Tim Bresnan. Finn is fiery enough to break though the batsmen’s defence with sheer speed. His is the youngest English player to pick up 50 Test wickets.
He’s surely enjoying the preference of the third seamer over Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett, largely due to his batting skills. An average of 40.2 for a batsman coming in at No 7 or No.8 cannot be ignored. But as time moves by, his contribution with the ball will be crucial. Else, he would end up as the English version of Irfan Pathan.
A career which should have got going back in 2005, Tremlett still finds himself in the sidelines - thanks to various injuries across the years that have kept him out of action. More significantly, he injured himself when he was in sublime form which is the last thing any bowler would wish for. From here on, he will have to keep himself fit and available for every series as any more injuries at the age of 30 will surely make things difficult for him.
Graham Onions is another disciplined bowler who missed out playing more often because of back injury. With 32 wickets from nine Tests, he has been a productive bowler thus far. He looks determined enough to fight it out, the way he returned to the squad post the injury in 2010.
On a lighter note he can be the most reliable No.11 batsmen who can eke out a draw on fifth day having proved it in South Africa.
It was his fruitful season of 2009 which got him coach Andy Flower’s attention. Marred by controversies, he was accepted by Lancashire on loan. His average hasn’t been as impressive as the other bowlers in the national squad, but he is touted as having the potential to rise.
Jade Dernbach is among the inconsistent lot. Beyond a good slower delivery, he doesn’t make much of an impact on the batsmen. He has been optimistic about a Test call-up off late which looks tough looking at the better option currently available in the longer format. Yet, he has been impressive during the death overs in shorter format of the game.
It’s too early to include Shahzad and Dernbach in England’s big league bowlers. The little of what we have seen in the international circuit, disciplined bowling will be a golden expectation from them if they are to become an asset in the longest format of the game. Despite enormous competition their presence augurs well for England at least in T20s and ODIs.
It’s rare to find a team boasting of having a bowling bench strength that is equally deserving as the one’s featuring in the playing XI.
Undoubtedly their success, especially at home, lies in the number of wickets picked up in domestic seasons. Tremlett, Bresnan, Broad, Onions and Anderson share more than 2000 First- Class wickets, with their leading fast bowler Anderson having more than 500 out of them. This makes it clear that bowlers featuring in the national team are proven match-winners rather than a stroke of gamble expected to succeed at the highest level.
Though fast bowlers have contributed more to success of England, it is the quality of Graeme Swann in the spin department which makes it a champion team. He is undoubtedly one of the best spinners at present, alongside Saeed Ajmal. It will be interesting to see how successful he is while playing in India later where spinners play an important role. The team also has backup in Monty Panesar, who has done well in the little opportunities he has secured off late.
Test of the bowlers
On the above basis and their current form, England find themselves in a comfortable cushion playing their next two major series against Australia and South Africa at home. Though the series with Proteas will be a challenge to shield their top ranking but their team looks solid enough to be affected by the challenge of better teams at home. However the biggest task for England bowling attack will be finding success in India during November this year. The English pace attack hasn’t had much success in recent years. A fruitful tour to subcontinent will be an added glory justifying their top spot.
Coach and manager Andy Flower recently received a lot of flak recently for leaving out James Anderson for the last Test against West Indies. Flower had a valid stand to protect the life span of the sharp English attack. While many teams desperately lack good pace attack, England have put forward amazing talent on a consistent basis who have been a treat to watch through these years. A match report of any game in Ashes 2005 would be incomplete without the mention of Simon Jones. But injuries were a regular occurrence in his career. A vastly- experienced Ryan Sidebottom couldn’t manage his international career plagued by knee injuries and eventually announced his retirement in 2010. Flower’s logic thus makes sense.
Chris Tremlett in his prime form post Ashes 2010-11 tour found himself cooling his heels with a back injury which has pegged him back in a competitive atmosphere. So is the case with most of the other bowlers mentioned above.
With plenty of options available, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower wouldn’t hesitate to follow the rotation policy more frequently in the near future which will prove their mettle as a champion team.
(Like most Indians, Abhijit Banare has been obsessed with cricket since childhood. He is an avid follower, smitten by statistics and analysis. A journalism student in Mumbai, he considers himself lucky to have grown up watching batting legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. He also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)