Published on March 4th, 2013 | by Jack Marshall0
Where have all the fast bowlers gone?
“Nowadays South Africa has stolen the mantle from England, as their strength in depth is paraded for all to see: Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kleinveldt, Abbott, De Lange, and the list go on. If they want to get back to where they want to be, England will have to kick-start their bowling unit dripping with potential and turn it into what the Proteas currently possess: world beaters.” Writes Jack Marshall
In recent times England’s bowling ranks – once a seemingly indelible aquifer of fast bowling talent – are looking more like a humble well that, if not managed correctly, threatens to dry up, sequestrating the very tool that took Andy Flower’s Test side to number one in the world. South Africa have shown that a long and accomplished conveyor belt of pace bowlers is the key to success in Test cricket with the likes of Vernon Philander, Rory Kleinveldt, Marchant de Lange and Kyle Abbott coming into the Test side and immediately making their mark, much like England’s well-stocked shelf-produce used to in the era of Chris Tremlett, AjmalShahzad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Onions. But on this tour to New Zealand, the tourist’s reserves have been underwhelming to say the least, and such a severe decline from the state enjoyed barely over a year ago will be a great concern to Cook and Flower.
James Anderson, alongside Dale Steyn, is possibly the best bowler in the world at the minute and is exempt from such chastisement. As is young Steve Finn, who has seen his own stock rise sharply in the England set-up as he continues to impress with lightning pace, dead eye accuracy and the skillful employment of his irresistible virtues as a fast bowler. Anderson and Finn, alongside England’s heartbeat Graeme Swann, make up three of the four-man attack that is sure to take the field of play come the Dunedin Test. But the rapid decline of the rest of the bowling unit has left England with a frighteningly sparse set of alternatives.
Stuart Broad will undoubtedly be retaining fears that his body, more specifically his heel, will let him down once again as he looks to reestablish himself in the England set-up. Highly regarded and possessing of undeniable potential and fast bowling prowess, Broad has seen the first half of is England career come to an end. The honeymoon is over, and the real work comes now as the Nottinghamshire man is faced with two options: kicking on, eventually fulfilling his role as future England skipper, and returning to his former self – the man capable of hurdling 90mph, swinging the ball and extracting bounce from a full length. Alternatively, he can regress and capitulate under pressure from his body, from the strains of playing all three formats and gradually fade away like so many before him. The common consensus is that ‘Broady’ will occupy that coveted third pace bowling place, especially following the failure of Graeme Onions and Chris Woakes to press their own claims in England’s disappointing 3 wicket defeat to a New Zealand XI side at Queenstown.
With a batting line up that is sure to mirror the one England will play come the first Test, the onus was on the bowlers in the warm up game – the first England have lost since 2006 – who were faced with somewhat of a shootout in the race to secure the place in the Test side. Broad, who took 3-158 in the match, still looked a little under-cooked, albeit on a pitch that was a very good batting strip. His pace partners, Graeme Onions and Chris Woakes, whose inclusion in the Test squad ahead of Bresnan pressed many into suggesting Flower and Cook may go for a 5 man attack with Woakes, who averages 37.54 with 6 centuries in First Class cricket; fared little better.
Onions’ heroics for Durham last season refuted claims that his injury troubles had derailed prospects of a blooming international career but the right-armer suffered at the hands of the New Zealanders as he went for over five an over in both innings, picking up just one wicket for 313. His accuracy and stump-to-stump line was believed to be ideal for the conditions England find themselves playing in, but run-up problems married with a lack of confidence that was not aided by his personal grimace-inducing bowling triple ton, made for an altogether unhappy outing for Onions. Cruelly, he may have seen his chances of edging Stuart Broad out of the Test side ahead of the back-to-back Ashes series this summer and winter, flitter away with one unfortunately bad performance.
After his breakthrough into the ODI side, Warwickshire’s Chris Woakes’ inclusion in the Test squad was a telling leap by the selectors. His status as the County Cricket’s premier all rounder cannot be argued with considering his stats at the domestic level where he averages 38 with the bat and 26 with the ball. Time is very much on Woakes’ side as well; having just turned 24 today, and his presence in future England Test sides is all but an eventuality. While this series may be too early for Woakes, he will benefit to no end from being in and around the squad – a squad that has sampled Test cricket’s zenith and developed a taste for it. Give it a few years and allow for his bowling to evolve and flourish to the next level for Woakes: Test standard. Heaven knows his batting is already there or thereabouts.
When England were plundering all before them not three years ago, their bowling attack was the crux of their success. Depth and hunger permeated throughout the squad. Anderson, Broad and Bresnan were eating batting line ups for breakfast, and a second string of Tremlett, Finn and Onions – all of whom would have found themselves accumulating Test caps in abundance had their passports not been English – was as good a replacement trio as one could hope for. Nowadays South Africa has stolen the mantle from England, as their strength in depth is paraded for all to see: Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kleinveldt, Abbott, De Lange, and the list go on. If they want to get back to where they want to be, England will have to kick-start their bowling unit dripping with potential and turn it into what the Proteas currently possess: world beaters.
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