Ashes 2013: Simon Kerrigan’s shocking debut a reality check for England

The England selectors might be pulling their hair out after Simon Kerrigan’s performance in his debut Test match at The Oval © Getty Images

By Sarang Bhalerao

Just a night before the Oval Test commenced he would have been the happiest person visualising his bowling. There are dream debuts which ensure your permanent entry in the annals of the game. The teammates are all friendly giving suggestions to enjoy the sport. There are pep-talks being given, the butterflies in the stomach make the person anxious, yet the exhilaration to be one amongst the 11 best in the country keeps you going. The white flannels with the England logo, the cap with the number 656 embossed on it. For the rest of his life he would be called a Test cricketer. But little did Simon Kerrigan know what fate had reserved for him on his first day in office at the flat surface of The Oval. It was as if fate was telling Kerrigan, “Welcome to this surly world.”

Just a fortnight ago Monty Panesar was on the fringes of selection, and had the left-arm spinner not been in the news for all the wrong reasons he would certainly have played the Oval Test.

Kerrigan’s First-Class record has been impressive. In 48 games he has picked up 164 scalps at an average of 26.52 with 11 five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket hauls. At The Oval, Kerrigan was nervous. His first 12 balls were eventful. Long hops and high full-tosses took precedence. The first loose ball was pure nervousness but what followed indicated that Kerrigan had wilted under pressure — the pressure to be the best left-arm spinner in the country (which Panesar certainly is) and the pressure to perform on debut.

Maybe Kerrigan was thinking too much. Thousands of overs were bowled keeping in mind the discipline: smooth run-up, bowling relentlessly on the spot and pivoting the left-leg at the time of delivery. All of a sudden the basic tenets of the bowling were goofed up. That’s what anxiety does to you. Suspicions creep in like unwanted guests and the whole script goes haywire.

Two overs, 28 runs — the format was Test cricket and not Twenty20. Shane Watson meted out harsh punishment to Kerrigan and later said that he was relieved to see no Tim Bresnan, who has been Watson’s nemesis, in the England bowling line-up. The Australian all-rounder had had a very poor Ashes. It was a time he wanted to cash in after having got in. Kerrigan bore the brunt of Watson’s assault.

Sport is cruel. Kerrigan would have wondered why the ball was not getting out of the hand properly. The focus wavers after getting hit in the initial spell. His strength — sharp turn and bounce — was nowhere to be seen. The intention is just to finish the over as quickly as possible and that plays into the hands of the batsmen, Watson in particular. In the middle of the action you know you are embarrassed. The crowds are silent; the silence kills for the sufferer.

After his horror first spell, Kerrigan was given a second chance but he failed to make an impact even then. He still gave loose deliveries which released the stranglehold on the batsmen. Eight overs were all he got out of the 128.5 overs bowled by the home team. His confidence must be at an all-time low. He wants to get it back as soon as possible.

The selectors might be pulling their hair out after Kerrigan’s performance. Their gut instinct to open with Joe Root has augured well for England; the fast-tracking of Kerrigan has not. It will be unfair to just dump Kerrigan after just 48 balls in Test cricket. It is an apt time to groom him if they think he is the future of England. He might play regularly for England Lions, learn a thing or two about bowling by rubbing shoulders with Graeme Swann and Mushtaq Ahmed.

It is also an apt reminder for the selectors to make the criterion for Test selection tough. This was an easy debut handed to Kerrigan, may be to surprise the Australians. In hindsight the inclusion of Chris Tremlett or Steven Finn might have been apt. For starters the Oval track was not an ideal wicket to field two specialist spinners. But England took the gamble and it has not paid off well.

Cricket is an interesting game. Kerrigan might be a completely different bowler if he gets a wicket early in the second innings. History is replete with instances where some of the greats have had horrible debuts. Shane Warne was hammered by the Indians on his debut. At one point he had lost the confidence when the Indian batsmen were toying with his bowling. But it is the quick recovery from the ghosts of the past and the confidence in his abilities that has placed Warne amongst the pantheon of greats. Kerrigan has learnt a harsh lesson. Every failure gives one courage and strength to battle for the future impediments.

Kerrigan would want to prove people that he belongs to the level. It is a herculean task but isn’t playing for the country the same?

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)