Match Preview by Neil Robinson 09/08/03
From the very beginning this summer has had a valedictory feel to it for English cricket. Following the World Cup came the retirement from one-day internationals of Nasser Hussain, Nick Knight, Andrew Caddick and Alec Stewart, then Caddick picked up a back injury which looks likely to sideline him for good.
With the England team beginning to rely ever more greatly on a promising group of youngsters, the resignation from the captaincy of Nasser Hussain after the First Test against South Africa seemed to signal a changing of the guard. Now, following another disappointing return at Lord’s, the retirement from Test cricket of Darren Gough has comfirmed that feeling and led the selectors to choose a squad featuring four uncapped players for the Third Test at Trent Bridge this week.
At both Lord’s and Edgbaston, Gough bowled tirelessly and accurately, but managed to claim only the one wicket, going for plenty of runs in the process. It was a return which, sad to say, reflected the level of threat he posed. Having finally accepted that the weakness in his knee (and, perhaps, the passage of time) will no longer allow him to bear the burden of five day cricket, Gough can settle into the record books as England’s eighth highest wicket-taker of all time, agonisingly one place and five wickets short of his old colleague and rival Caddick. “After 229 wickets and a knee in bits, I hope the public won’t feel I’ve let them down,” said Gough frankly as he made his announcement. No fear, Goughie, no fear.
But Gough’s retirement in mid-series has left the selectors with something of a problem. Already lacking Caddick, Hoggard, Jones, Johnson and Tudor, they were expected to offer Surrey’s James Ormond a deserved recall, only to hear that Ormond had developed tendinitis in his knee. A recall for veteran batsman Graham Thorpe was also predicted (and strongly supported by the public), but a recurrence of back trouble did for him too. As a result, the selectors have named a 13-man squad which has the look of an exercise in covering all bases.
Joining Gough in leaving the squad after Lord’s is his Yorkshire colleague Anthony McGrath. Coming in are Kent batsman Ed Smith, Worcestershire off-spinner Gareth Batty and Lancashire seamer Glen Chapple. Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart retain their places and the fourth uncapped player is James Kirtley, who must be hoping that another place in the squad will finally translate into a first Test cap.
Although McGrath didn’t exactly set the series alight in the first two Tests, his omission still seems harsh. He looked to have done well enough against Zimbabwe to have earned a slightly longer run in the side and he got two very good balls at Lord’s. The selectors said they felt his form had dropped off somewhat against South Africa, but a feeling that McGrath simply didn’t look like the future of English cricket may have had more to do with it. Whatever the merits of that decision, there can be no doubt that the selectors have chosen a form horse to replace him in the form of Ed Smith. The 26-year old, Cambridge educated right hander, a protegee of Aussie coach John Inverarity, is a classy striker of the ball and has a genuine hunger to play at the highest level. He is in the form of his life too, following up two good years by becoming the first Englishman to reach 1000 runs this season during a spell of six hundreds in six matches. He is renowned on the circuit for not giving his wicket away easily and for always having something to say. There is no doubting the quality of his front-foot strokeplay, but proof of his game against the short ball remains to be seen.
Whether or not Graham Thorpe would also have made the team had he been fit is a moot point, as is the question of whether he would have come in for Hussain or McGrath. Hussain did his own case no harm at all after the Lord’s debacle by going out and smashing a rapid 161 not out in a one-day game for Essex. But his quality as a batsman was never in doubt. The real question surrounding Hussain’s future is whether the spectre of their fiery former captain will continue to unsettle the England team under its new management.
More interesting still is the composition of the bowling. The choice of Batty could be a smart move, with the country in the middle of a heatwave and pitches turning to dust, choosing a second spinner on a flat, dry wicket could be a masterstroke. Batty’s presence in the side would also immeasurably improve England’s fielding and he’s not a bad batsman either. Chapple, on the other hand, is a curious choice. He was on the fringes of the squad for a time during the mid-90s, but never looked to have made quite the strides he was expected to. An honest, hit-the-deck fast-medium seamer, who gets movement both through the air and off the seam, he bowls a fair ration of wicket-taking balls, but too many boundary balls for most people’s liking.
He has not had the best of summers in first-class cricket, his 20 wickets coming at 37 apiece. Far better records are boasted by younger candidates, Worcestershire’s Kabir Ali has 48 at 23 and Yorkshire’s flame-haired firebrand Steve Kirby a similar tally. Chapple’s call-up suggests that the selectors are concerned about the inexperience of Flintoff, Anderson and Harmison and wish to back it up with a more experienced (at least in county terms) bowler.
Both Chapple and Kirtley are experienced and respected county bowlers, offering two very different styles. While Chapple bowls back of a length and hits the deck hard, Kirtley is a skiddy, low slung bowler who swings the ball away at a decent pace. Perhaps the two leading seamers in English cricket, who must have figured strongly in the deliberations, are Martin Saggers of Kent and Martin Bicknell of Surrey, but both are very close to Kirtley in style and it may be that the desire for variety counted in Chapple’s favour. It is unlikely that Chapple and Kirtley will both play and after spending half the summer as 12th man Kirtley must feel that his time is due. But don’t be surprised if Chapple’s superior batting wins him the nod.
Despite their first innings failure at Lord’s, England will remain confident about the quality of their batting. The bowling however remains a concern. England’s seamers looked undercooked in the first two Tests, probably because they were. After their defeat in the one-day final, South Africa put in a lot of work to revitalise their tour and had two three-day games against the counties to put it into practice. While the South Africans were getting in some crucial match practice, England were practising their golf swings. Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson were forced to sit out their county games and turned up for the First Test not having bowled with a red ball in a match for six weeks. It showed.
With a week or so’s break before Trent Bridge, a four day game for their counties would have done England the power of good. Sadly this was not possible, not because the management forced them to rest, but simply because no four day cricket was scheduled. While the South Africans have bagged another valuable three-day win over Kent, England’s stars have been twiddling their thumbs, hoping to get a run out in a one-day match. The concentration on one-day cricket during this crucial week of the season is partly down to an understandable desire to give due prominence to the semi-finals of the C&G Trophy (in one of which Flintoff and Anderson got to send down their only 10 overs of the week), but it is also down to a desire to allow Sky TV to cram in as many floodlit county matches as possible while no Test cricket is there to take away the viewers. During the 10 days between the Second and Third Test, not one day has gone by without there being some one-day county cricket on TV. It is symptomatic of a system which puts the easy buck before the good of the national side.
For South Africa, the only problem is who to leave out of the side in order to accommodate the return of Jacques Kallis. It is unlikely to be Andrew Hall, who was released from the squad to play for Worcestershire in their C&G semi final and followed up his fine match at Lord’s with a brilliant spell, winning the match for his side in a final over which leaked just one run and claimed three wickets. Kallis, who batted and bowled well in the warm-up match against Kent, is sure to return and the leading candidates ot make way would be Dewald Pretorius, Jacques Rudolph and Paul Adams, who just bagged 9 for 79 against Kent. None of them deserves to lose his place. But it is far better to be scratching your head wondering who to leave out than who to shove in. South Africa are a team on a high and with England hampered by injuries and undergoing a painful transition, they will hope to seal the series in this match and the Fourth Test at Headingley which follows immediately afterwards.
England Squad for Third Test: