Stuart Broad’s bowling, amongst other things, has been exposed so far in the series.
So in the end the third test meandered towards a draw following a crucial fifth wicket stand of 185 between the imperious Michael Clarke and dogged Marcus North. Despite a lot of optimism from Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss, England were only able to take three wickets, and at times the bowling attack looked as ineffective as it had at Cardiff.
Australia will be buoyed by the fact that they got out of Edgbaston unscathed and by the fact that Shane Watson, at least temporarily, proved the critics wrong by scoring a 50 in each innings to help give Australia a bit more solidity at the top of the order.
Two other important cogs also look to be falling back into place for Ricky Ponting. Michael Hussey was under real pressure following his golden duck in the 1st innings, so his knock of 64 will have gone a long way to repairing his damaged confidence and helping him locate where his off stump is. Even better for Ponting is the fact that Mitchell Johnson is starting to look like the bowler who tormented the South Africans only a few months ago.
Indeed, with Brett Lee likely to come in for the inconsistent Peter Siddle, and Brad Haddin returning from his broken finger, the Aussie side is starting to look like a more formidable force. Lee must be licking his lips at the thought of bowling at Headingley to the brittle English middle order triumvirate of Bopara, Bell and Collingwood. Australia will be on the attack in Leeds, and England need to be bold and fight fire with fire.
Although I can understand the argument for sticking with a team that is 1-0 up in the series, Strauss, Flower and chief selector Geoff Miller should take a bold approach when appraising individual performances in the first three tests and look closely at the positions of Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara.
The selectors like Broad. He scores useful runs at number eight, is naturally competitive and isn’t afraid to stand toe to toe with the Australians. However, he is failing in his main job, which is taking wickets. Broad doesn’t seem to know what sort of bowler he should be. Is he trying to be the English Glenn McGrath, bowling a consistent line and length and testing the batsmen in the corridor of uncertainty just outside off stump? Or, is he better served using his height and bounce to be the enforcer of the attack? Whichever bowler he is trying to be, it is not working as a test bowling average of 40.21 and strike rate of a wicket every 73.6 balls clearly testifies.
With Andrew Flintoff at number seven looking like he has regained some of his form with the bat and Graham Swann (test batting average of 35.16) more than good enough to bat at number eight, the argument about the need for Broad’s runs doesn’t stand up. He is young and will come again. A spell back in county cricket will probably do him the power of good. Clearly he is a project player for England, so he should be told he is still very much in the selectors’ thoughts and that he will be on the plane for the tour to South Africa.
So who should replace Broad? Well I am certainly not suggesting a left-field pick like Darren Pattinson (remember him!), and would pick both Steve Harmison and Ryan Sidebottom in the squad, making a final decision when I saw the Headingley pitch and weather forecast.
Harmison has been bang on form all summer and is exuding confidence and intent. He has already shown that Phillip Hughes is not the new Bradman and he is feared and respected by the Australians. In this mood Harmy is definitely one of the top four bowlers in the country and is capable of the magic spell that could see England secure the Ashes in Leeds.
The other alternative, Sidebottom, is also back to full fitness and also back in form, having recently picked up a five-wicket haul in an innings at that fast-bowlers’ graveyard, Taunton. He also has an excellent record at Headingley, and if the ball is swinging could be a good pick.
As for Bopara, he seems to lack the ability to concentrate for long spells, which is surely the key requisite to bat at number three. There are also doubts about his temperament and he has cut a distracted figure throughout the series. Yes, he scored three centuries in a row against the West Indies. However, the first of those was batting at number six, and the second two were against a side that could barely be bothered to turn up for the return tour to England. Playing Australia is a step up in class and he has not cut the mustard so far.
In terms of options, the simple one would be to drop Bopara down the order to five and promote Bell to three and Collingwood to four, but is that bold enough?
Assuming that Marcus Trescothick is unavailable and the selectors won’t go back to Mark Ramprakash for one last hurrah; alternatives to Bopara are fairly limited. Rob Key has the right temperament, is back amongst the runs and gained the respect of the Aussies in the 2003 series Down Under. Joe Denly, Key’s colleague at Kent, has impressed all summer including for the England Lions against the Aussies. Stephen Moore impressed in the same match. Owais Shah seems to lack the temperament for test cricket and I am not sure if he could shine in the furnace of an Ashes contest. Jonathan Trott looks to have something about him, but like Denly and Moore has no test match experience. Taking all that into account, I would go for Key with the added bonus being that in eight tests at number three he has scored 532 runs at a healthy average of 40.9.
So will the selectors twist and be bold? Or will they stick with the same side and risk losing the grip England seems to have on the Ashes with two tests to go? For me they have to be bold especially as you can be sure that the Australians will seize upon any negativity with a strengthened team at Headingley.
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