Does England Need a 5 Man Attack to Become #1 in the World?

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New World Cricket Watch columnist Bruce Horne examines what England should do next with their bowling attack.

With the Ashes series drawing to a close, and with England having jumped a long standing psychological hurdle, this writer contemplates whether they should field  a four or five man bowling attack in the future.  In the absence of a world class all rounder (although I am sure there are hopes that Rashid and Woakes will make it) England are forced to field either an additional bowler or batsman, which significantly impacts the balance of the side.  Would a five man attack give the team that extra something to make them the strongest in the world or would it make them vulnerable?

The four man attack has re-claimed the Ashes albeit against an Australian side that has been in decline for a few years.  However, England have still needed to perform, and with the exception of a few of days in Brisbane and Perth, they have.  The batsmen have demonstrated a solidarity that exudes a confidence not seen in recent times, whilst the bowlers have operated successfully together and thrown up a few pleasant surprises in Tremlett and Bresnan.

The test this summer is sure to be a sterner one with the highest ranked team in the world coming to England for a four Test series (this follows three tough Tests against Sri Lanka).  The Indian seam attack is often criticised but Khan and Sreesanth are two bowlers that will suit English conditions and Harbhajan has had a good series in South Africa.  Furthermore, the renowned batting line up will be a formidable one to break down.  Will four bowlers be enough?

Many will argue that England should stick to the formula that has been so successful this winter.  A fifth bowler is only required if England’s four man attack is struggling to take twenty wickets in a match.  At the moment this is not the case as Anderson, Swann and co are proving to be a potent unit.  If the bowlers are taking the wickets then use the rest of the team to score as many runs as possible.  This would mean that the number six position (assuming that Bell is moved up to five) will be filled by a batsman.  Collingwood’s are big boots to fill despite several lean months with the bat.  His contributions as a fifth bowler and as an incredible fielder should not be underestimated.  For this reason some may be tempted to recall Bopara who bowls useful medium pace.  However, he has had several opportunities and not yet convinced in the Test match arena.  Morgan is the obvious incumbent to Collingwood’s throne and his inclusion would suit the balance of a team with four bowlers.  If this is to be the outcome then the additional bowling responsibilities must fall to the likes of Bell, Trott and Pietersen, who are all capable (Pietersen took the vital wicket of Michael Clarke in the last over of the fourth day at Adelaide).

Other observers believe that England should be more aggressive by demonstrating confidence in their top five through picking an extra bowler at the expense of Morgan.  This would mean moving Prior up to number six.  With a test average of 41 he has the ability.  Furthermore, the lower middle order would not be weakened too much as the likes of Broad, Bresnan and Swann are all good number eight batsmen and between them would supply the runs required from seven, eight and nine.

Flower and Strauss need to be flexible in their approach and play five bowlers where the situation requires it.  They may need to do this on the unresponsive pitches in the sub continent next winter or at the Oval this summer if it favours spin.  Flexibility, or lack of it, is something that the management has been criticised for in recent weeks.  Collingwood was stubbornly retained at number five when he should have been swapped with Bell midway through the series.  In a tighter series, against a stronger opposition, England may have been made to pay for this.  Bell had to sacrifice his wicket through playing expansive strokes at Brisbane and Perth when forced to bat with the tail where he would surely have made bigger scores had he come in earlier in the order.

England have several resources at their disposal in most departments.  There are enough international quality seamers to fill two sides; Morgan will face competition from Bopara and Hildreth, whilst Panesar and Rashid wait in the spinning wings.  This is a wonderful problem to have but the key will be to ensure that they play the right players in the right conditions.

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  1. Guy Wilshaw says

    Good article Bruce. Some food for thought.

    Every side looks to find a the right balance and unless you can fill your top order with legends of the game and the bowling ranks with destructive players as Australia did not so long ago, the search for an all-rounder go on.

    With that in mind, I expect England to favour their current 4 bowlers as they’ve remained conservative for the last few years (think back to the likes of 2005 when Collingwood was picked for Jones) looking to put runs on the board. This may seem justified to some as England collapses are almost a tradition.

    Who they pick remains to be seen with, as you say, enough bowlers to fit in to two teams. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Finn retained as England look to stick by him as they did with Broad (who looked average for a while, but whose improvement is ongoing). With some memorable performances in the shorter format, Morgan looks good to step in and further prove his worth in the 5 day game.

    One would hope that England continue to use the wealth of T20 and ODIs to develop their bowlers, particularly Woakes and especially Rashid. The Yorkshire lad has been harshly treated by England, and captains have looked tentative when he’s gone for some runs. At the same while, we’ve allowed Broad to develop and he wasn’t dropped following a certain 36 run over.

    Ultimately, England need to be prepared to be aggressive with their decisions in the future as the situation demands. Sadly it may be that they’ve mistaken selection consistency with being a little too rigid.

  2. Lambo says

    The phrase “if it aint broke don’t fix it comes to mind”. However the true test is obviously going to be this summer against India.
    I’d argue if the top six batsmen perform like they did in Australia, and with the retirement of Collingwood, Bresnan would be a plausable number 7 as well as adding something to the bowling attack.

  3. David Siddall says

    Thanks for the comment Lambo, i couldn’t agree more. Collingwood did do a good job as the 5th bowler when needed this summer however. He was fairly tight and the dismissal of Hussey – the previously immovable force – in Sydney comes to mind.

    We are blessed with a fantastic fast bowling stock right now. A good problem to have…

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