Do the two number eights add up to the best team?

There has been a lot of chat about the Windies’ supporting bowlers after Lord’s. The theory goes that Darren Sammy’s boys might have won if it wasn’t for, err, Darren Sammy.

They’ve got a point – sort of. Had the West Indies had four Kemar Roaches, or Kemar Roach backed up by a Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke or Winston Benjamin, then the result may well have been different. The trouble is, the Windies don’t have anyone anywhere near as good as this fearsome trio. Jerome Taylor is probably the closest, but he’s currently stuffed in a black bin liner outside WICB headquarters alongside Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan.

Instead, the Windies had to make do with Sammy – who is marginally quicker than Jonathan Trott’s trundlers, and probably a yard slower than Mark Ealham at his  pomp (if indeed the Kent medium pacer ever actually had a peak).

The problem is, however, that Darren Sammy is a good leader. He’s a popular figure who has galvanised this Windies side. It could be argued, equally, that the Windies would have been beaten within three days if it wasn’t for Sammy’s presence. Team spirit counts for a hell of a lot in professional sport. Just ask Andre Villas Boas.

However, the point I want to (belatedly) get to is as follows: England fans criticising Sammy’s inclusion are being a bit hypocritical. Could the same thing not be said of Tim Bresnan? Yes he’s a lucky charm – having won all 12 of his test appearances – but is he really the third best seam bowler in England?

It could even be argued that the case for dropping Bresnan is greater: the Windies don’t have any quality replacements for Sammy, whereas England have enough quality cabs on the rank to fill up the members’ car park at Trent Bridge.

When the England attack was toiling to remove Chanderpaul and Sammy in the second innings at Lord’s, our attack looked relatively benign for the first time in several seasons. We desperately needed someone with a bit of pace – somebody like Steve Finn, or even Stuart Meaker (who has been tearing up trees for Surrey recently).

Michael Holding goes on about Steve Finn all the time for a reason: he knows a thing or two about fast bowling and he reckons that Finn is mustard. The problem with tearaway quicks, however, is that they often haemorrhage runs. The last time Finn played for England he leaked four runs an over. Strauss and Flower cared little that he was England’s leading wicket taken at the time – they dropped him in favour of Bresnan, who provides the control that England’s management crave so badly.

Meanwhile, another perspective is that England have been carrying six batsmen, one of whom has rarely contributed, for nigh on eighteen months now. Paul Collingwood hardly scored a run in our Ashes triumph down under. Thereafter Eoin Morgan had ample opportunity to prove his worth, but generally failed to live up to expectations. And recently at Lord’s, Jonny Bairstow didn’t make an impact with the bat (although he did execute a brilliant run out). Finn’s fans might argue that the Middlesex beanpole would have made a much bigger contribution than a sixth specialist batter.

The fact that the next game is at Trent Bridge, where the ball traditionally swings, will probably save Bresnan. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Bresnan’s career figures are still very good. One average game doesn’t make him an average cricketer. Meanwhile, having picked Baistow, the selectors will want to give him a good run in the side – which is fair enough.

However, remember this is club England we’re talking about. It’s an elite team which is incredibly difficult to break into, but also incredibly difficult to get dropped from; unless, of course, you’re a bowler. Perhaps Bresnan shouldn’t count his chickens just yet.

James Morgan


  • I would definitely pick Finn over Bresnan. Bresnan’s accurate and a reliable enough 4th seamer, but you need more than that if you only choose 3 seamers – he’s not threatening enough and doesn’t take enough wickets when the pitch / weather conditions don’t favour him.

    Finn’s accuracy has much improved since the 2010/11 Ashes – he was our stand-out bowler in the ODI series on the sub-continent this winter, but he needs Test experience to develop further. He’s still only 23 and the England management need to accept that he’ll have the occasional off-day and go round the park – dropping him after one or two bad games will do him no good at all, particularly if he’s reduced to carrying the drinks rather than being released to play for Middlesex.

    As for Bairstow, having picked him he should at least have the rest of the Windies Test series to prove himself. The England set-up have long decided they’re going to play 6 specialist batsmen come what may, regardless of whether the opposition or conditions may suit 5 bowlers – they’ll only change their mind if we can find a genuine all-rounder rather than a bowler who can bat fairly well, like Bresnan, Broad or Swann.

    • Disagree. I thought Bresnan bowled some good deliveries and beat the bat a number of times. He went for a few runs but that happens. He was brilliant in Australia on flat wickets and bowled well in the last test in Sri Lanka in conditions that did not suit him. Ten years ago, the England management would drop him for Finn – the lesson learned over the last few years is to only make a change when you are really sure the player coming in is better. I am not sure Finn is head and shoulders better than Bresnan and for that reason, Bresnan should remain in the team

  • “England fans criticising Sammy’s inclusion are being a bit hypocritical. Could the same thing not be said of ” Andrew Strauss?

    Strauss has been averaging at about 28 since Aug 2010 (which includes his 2 most recent hundreds), and being an opener, he’s now at a position that he’s causing harm to his side rather than contributing. It’s not (only) the number 8 and the number 6 that cause problems in the England squad, but the number 1 as well.

  • Well, to be fair to Strauss, he does average 40+ in test cricket, and he did score a century in the last test. But yes, I take your point. I think the difference is that Strauss really is a test class batsman going through a tough patch, whereas Sammy (a guy that bowls 74-78mph) is rarely going to trouble the best. Then again, Sammy’s test bowling average is actually a respectable 31. He has a good economy rate too. So maybe he does justify his place after all. It’s all open for debate …

  • I think you’re wide of the mark, Morgsy, for a few reasons:

    Firstly, it’s not Taylor they’re missing, or even a fast bowler. The one man who could really have tipped that game for WI was Narine. Tendulkar is probably the best player of spin any of us has ever seen, but Narine has him in knots. Same for all the other greats in the IPL. He rarely even goes for a boundary. No one seems able to read him. England has dominated fast bowling of a much higher standard that West Indies over the last few years, but they’re real suckers for quality spin.

    Secondly, it’s a false comparison to equate Bresnan with Sammy. Even Sammy would probably concede he’s not really Test class, but he knows he’s canny and can do a useful job. Bresnan has real talent, though, and he showed it in Australia. It’s often said by people who’ve played him that he’s a lot quicker than he looks. I’ve seen him bowl some really smart spells when there’s nothing in it for the bowlers. I don’t think he gets credit for how good he is, maybe because he’s not a showboat like Broad, who is often rubbish and got away with being rubbish for years by having the occasional brilliant game. Bres also has a batting average over 40.

    I don’t think it’s really a straight choice between Bres and Finn anyway. England has the luxury of a stable of fast bowlers, probably eight of whom could slot in to most international teams. They may as well utilize the luxury and play horses for courses. Finn is the one fast bowler who really looks dangerous in the sub-continent. I don’t think England will win without him firing in India. (actually, I think Bres would be better than Broad in India, but they seem to have some sort of diabolical pact with Broad) At other times, Bresnan, Onions, Tremlett et al may give them better options.


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