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Posted on | January 3, 2011 | 1 Comment
England go to the Sydney Cricket Ground with a surfeit of what I would call “nice problems to have”.
Such as, how do they get themselves up for the final Test when they have already clinched the Ashes? And which three bowlers do they pick from an outstanding hand of seamers?
I always thought we had a decent chance in this series, but to be in such a comfy position here in Sydney … well, it’s beyond my wildest dreams. Best of all, there is more to come. Stuart Boad is sitting at home with a stomach strain and some of the young batsmen I have seen in the ‘A’ team look a bit special to me.
The main selection dilemma will be between Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan, depending on whether the SCG serves up a fast and bouncy pitch (which I doubt) or a low and slow one. Not that I expect it to make much of a difference. The way England and Australia are going, we could probably throw in Ajmal Shahzad, the next fast-bowling reserve, and watch him take a five-wicket haul.
Shahzad might not have played a part in this series, but let me tell you, he’s a tough young lad with fire in his belly. He bowls skiddy reverse-swing and he can bat a bit – probably not better than Bresnan but better than the other seamers around the camp.
It’s difficult to see Chris Tremlett being left out because he has bowled as well as anybody on the tour. Some of his lifting away-seamers have been unplayable. He gets the same sort of shape as Steve Harmison used to before his action went askew.
I can’t remember a time when England last had six bowlers to choose between. It’s a great position to be in when you think of how much cricket is being played.
Andy Flower and the selectors should look to rotate the squad as Sir Alex Ferguson does with Manchester United. With such quality in the reserves, they can afford to rest players, switch them around, and keep them fresh. Not only will that maintain the penetration of England’s seam attack in every match but it will extend careers for senior bowlers like James Anderson.
When you look at the calendar, it isn’t surprising that every coach wants to rotate his quicks. The trouble is that very few teams have more than a couple of Test-class bowlers up their sleeve. It was that way with England under Duncan Fletcher: he talked about rotation but his back-up options were people like Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett. Nice lads, but not quite good enough.
It’s interesting to compare England with South Africa. They have two absolute crackerjacks. Dale Steyn is quite rightly ranked No 1 in the world and Morne Morkel has learned to pitch the ball up and bowl with more control. When you combine that with his pace and height, he is an absolute nightmare to face.
But South Africa haven’t got much to back those two guys up. You could almost say that they’ve got two convincing options whereas we have five or six.
One reliable indicator of the quality of a side is the players they leave out. When the West Indies ruled the world, Wayne Daniel and Sylvester Clarke played 21 Tests between them. Today they would be the first names on the teamsheet for a lot of sides.
Likewise, Australia used to have a bunch of solid operators who could fill in behind Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie: not just Brett Lee but also people like Andy Bichel and Mike Kasprowicz.
I’ve talked a lot about the bowlers. It’s a bit different for batsmen: none of England’s top six will want to miss a match, especially when the team is winning. So any young players who want to force their way in will have to show patience and strength of character as well as talent.
The only man under pressure is Paul Collingwood and I don’t believe he’s finished. He’s 34 – which is far from past it – and a great fielder who just happens to be having a bad tour.
Eoin Morgan is eyeing up Collingwood’s spot and then you’ve got James Hildreth, who’s just been made captain of the ‘A’ squad, and a couple of decent young Yorkshire prospects in Andrew Gale and Adam Lyth.
They’re both top lads: Gale is a sensible, solid sort of player, and Lyth looks like a young David Gower. He can get to 30 before you even notice, because the ball slides off his bat so effortlessly.
There’s a contrast here with the modern Australians, who are casting around for the next bunch of players to replace the ones who are struggling. There aren’t too many people lining up to be picked.
I saw one of the papers set out 10 names for the future this morning and I smiled, because one of them was Mark Cosgrove. I mean, he’s a talented lad, but you could also call him a fat slogger. A one-day player at best.
The Aussies have spent so much time basking in the glory of the last generation that they have forgotten to plan for this one. It’s just like the West Indies again; once their great names from the 1970s and 80s retired, the whole thing fell apart.
The way things are going, the next Ashes series cannot come too quickly for England. What a shame that we have to wait until 2013 to play this lot again.
Reproduced with kind permission from the Daily Telegraph