England named their squad for the third and final test with Sri Lanka yesterday morning, and it contained no surprises with Jimmy Anderson for Jade Dernbach being the only change from the drawn test at Lord’s. It seems fairly clear that Steve Finn will be the one to miss out, despite having been top wicket taker last week.
Anyone who’s watched any England matches on Sky since Adelaide in December will have almost certainly heard a Michael Holding rant about how bowlers are picked to take wickets. Finn has done that and should therefore still be in the team. His point becomes more persuasive with every passing game. The Middlesex paceman became the youngest ever England bowler to 50 test wickets during the Lord’s test, and seems to have the happy knack of taking wickets without bowling particularly well. If the team were picked purely on a bowler’s contribution to the wickets tally, it’s difficult to argue that Finn should be the man to go.
Equally, it’s just as tough to make a case for Chris Tremlett to fall victim to the selector’s axe. Since his re-introduction to the side in Australia, Tremlett has provided an excellent foil to Anderson and seems to have mastered the balance between back of a length bowling, forcing the batsman back into his crease, and fuller yet still bat-jarring deliveries that create uncertainty about playing forwards.
So that leaves one man in the firing line, assuming the management team isn’t going to go back to the four seamer, five man attack they tried with such disastrous consequences at Headingley two years ago.
That man is Stuart Broad. It’s been a long time since Broad bowled a genuinely match changing spell – tearing through the South African middle order in Durban was probably the last such occurence – and he’s appeared rusty so far this season. He has the look of a bowler who would benefit from some time back on the County circuit.
Since it’s (in theory at least) a straight fight between Finn and Broad, let’s have a look at their respective records since Finn first broke into the team:
Finn – 50 wickets in 12 matches at 27 apiece (strike rate 41)
Broad – 28 wickets in 10 matches at 36 apeice (strike rate 73)
As our player reviews of the second test pointed out, Broad’s batting will probably save him for now but do England really need runs from number eight? Of course it’s a bonus, but is it worth weakening the bowling to strengthen a batting line up which doesn’t really need strengthening?
The answer is no. At present, England’s strongest bowling attack does not include Stuart Broad. That is not to say he should be ditched forever, but his situation is quite similar to that of Jimmy Anderson a few years ago. Both were picked very young, and Anderson only became the bowler he is today after he was able to develop away from the international spotlight. Maybe Broad requires the same break if he is to fulfil his potential.
Right now it isn’t clear what type of bowler he wants to be or what type he is most suited to. Clearly he is not a swing bowler in the Anderson mould, but he also doesn’t have the powerful action to be a genuinely fearsome pace bowler a-la Tremlett. On top of that, for a tall man his pitched-up deliveries seem remarkably ‘floaty’ and unthreatening. There have been signs of him becoming a line and length merchant, only for those spells to be followed by him completely losing his radar and banging in a whole load of half-track pies, the likes of which Australia cunningly fed Kevin Pietersen during his double hundred in Adelaide. Until he himself has worked out where his true strength lies it’s difficult to see him becoming a consistent wicket taking threat.
It’s understandable for England’s selectors to want to give Broad time, their patience with Alastair Cook whilst most of the cricket world was calling for his head has been rewarded quite spectacularly, but this time there is a genuine alternative banging on their door. Steve Finn’s figures do not warrant him being left out of the side. It’s time for the new T20 captain to take a break.