It’s the kind of problem which reminds me why I’d never want to be a selector: what if your worst bowler is taking the most wickets?
Such is the dilemma surrounding Steven Finn, because James Anderson’s return for the third test will mean either he or Stuart Broad will get the chop. Finn may have sprayed it around this week like Banksy in an aerosol store but he seems to have a knack for taking wickets. He ended up with four in Sri Lanka’s first innings, to post figures of 33-8-108-4, compared to Broad’s 32-5-125-1.
If the selectors drop Finn, they’ll effectively be saying either that wickets count for less than seniority – or that his wickets were lucky. But will they remotely want to drop Broad, an important compent of the team’s nucleus and now the T20 captain, and in whom they’ve invested so much? If we somehow contrive a win today, and seal the series, Geoff Miller may defer the decision by leaving Anderson out to convalesce further. But from where I’ve been sitting, there must be long-term concerns over Broad’s role in the attack. It’s hard to fathom exactly how he’s trying to take wickets. He rarely gets big swing, he doesn’t aim at the stumps, and he’s not fast enough to rely solely on pace. But he’s a decent bat, and his excellent 54 in this match may prove more than enough to retain his place.
Meanwhile, I’ve had a feeling for a while that Strauss needs some runs, and we’re probably now heading into a a period of debate over the skipper’s form. Since the beginning of last summer’s Pakistan series, he’s averaged 30, and averaged 24 during the previous winter’s South Africa tour. As everyone’s suddenly realised, Strauss doesn’t like left-arm bowlers. Alec Stewart, speaking on Test Match Special, made this trenchant point:
“All the talk has been about Kevin Pietesen’s problems with left-arm spinners, but Andrew Strauss’s problems with left-arm opening bowlers have slipped under the radar. He has a technical issue, he is a top-class player, but left-armers are definitely troubling him, and India coach Duncan Fletcher will be fully aware of that, with Zaheer Khan central to his plans for their series.”
It’s hard to say how you overcome a problem like that, but here’s a question for those of you who understand batting: are some batsmen just naturally weaker against left-arm bowlers? Is it the difference in angle? Is it a technical problem? Or do cricketers simply grow up facing so few left armers that their style forever remains problematic?
Another of yesterday’s major talking points concerned bad light. Inexplicably, the umpires suspended play when England were 61-1, on the grounds that the light was too poor, even though the floodlights were on and both batsmen and fielders wished to continue. As I understand it, the umpires had no choice within the ICC regulations. Given that the paying spectators at Lord’s, who’d waited till 1.10pm for play to start in the first place, must have been pretty cheesed off too, the whole thing seems completely ridiculous. As Michael Vaughan put it:
“If you had Brett Lee bowling at two tail-enders I could understand the umpires taking the players off. But you’ve got two top-class batsmen out there at the top of their game playing a Sri Lankan attack bowling at 80mph. And there’s a decent crowd paying good money in.”
Test cricket has enough problems without constantly shooting itself in the foot. This needs sorting, pronto. But at least Lord’s had some good news for us, the punters. Admission today is free for under-sixteens, and £10 for over-65s. £20 for everyone else.
All the talk this morning is about whether England can still force a Cardiff-style victory. A touch premature, I’d argue. Lose a couple of early wickets and we could still have a real fight on our hands; Sri Lanka are still in this game. If only for that reason I’m sure that you, as an England supporter, will join me in wishing Kevin Pietersen the best of luck today. Come on KP – give us a ton. It was both funny and touching to witness the crowd’s response to the early stages of his innings last night. Every time he defended a dot ball against Herath, the left-arm spinner, they cheered – with a mixture of affection and irony. It’s the kind of thing only England cricket fans would ever do.