CMJ: England’s ‘Three Bs’ should all play at Edgbaston

And so, as old Samuel might have put it, to Birmingham, there to see England scale further heights.

Probably, but it will not be so easy for England this time because India’s pride is deeply wounded and with luck they will have their three missing men back: Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag – perhaps for Sreesanth, Mukund and Raina. That would bring guile, experience and proven skill to a team that has an important week to sort itself out.

Looked at from India’s perspective, not everything is necessarily lost yet. At Nottingham they were twice in strong positions to win the game, when England were 88 for six on the first day and when India in reply to the their opponents’ eventual 221 were 267 for four.

Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar have bowled well in both Tests so far, Rahul Dravid has made a brace of masterly hundreds, V.V.S.Laxman is in form and Sachin Tendulkar looked half a class above even these two while the second innings collapsed about him at Trent Bridge. If Harbhajan Singh has also returned to full fitness by next Wednesday, this will look more like the most highly rated side in Test cricket.

The other side of the coin is that Sharma and Kumar have bowled too many overs in the West Indies and the first two Tests here and must be tired. That the attack is simply short of menace. That Sehwag cannot be expected to come cold into the series and to start playing dazzling strokes. That Tendulkar is at least to some extent being distracted by the landmark of 100 international centuries. That Dhoni is keeping raggedly and not scoring runs. And that India are two down with two to play.

England may be close, in fact, to breaking their opponents and wrapping up the series at Edgbaston. They have thoughtfully, mercilessly and at times brilliantly taken their chance to beat a half-baked touring team so far. It serves India right for failing to prepare with a sufficient number of games against county sides and for undertaking the World Cup, the IPL and a tour of the West Indies in such quick succession. The four fast bowlers used so far – Anderson, Broad, Bresnan and Tremlett – have, with a ripe and ruthless mixture of swing and bounce, been (forgive the expression) the enforcers.

The Indian batsmen have no more enjoyed it than all those teams who came second best to the West Indies in their years of a world domination that depended primarily on the physical menace of a long line of tall and mighty fast bowlers: Garner, Roberts, Holding, Croft, Daniel, Clarke, Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop and so on. Marshall was the exception as far as size was concerned but he was pretty slippery too, as well as being such a consummate craftsman.

Anderson is his nearest modern equivalent. The rest of the current England pack, with other tall men like Finn and Rankin in the wings, know that they pose a constant threat to batsmen used to playing the ball below the waist in India, but they have also appreciated the foolishness of concentrating only on short-pitched bowling, as opposed to plying a consistent line and length around the off stump and keeping bouncers for the right men at the right time. Dropped slip catches have been the only serious failing by England so far apart from Alastair Cook’s four early dismissals and Andrew Strauss’s failure to capitalise on solid starts.

England should be confident but not over-confident, not least because no one ever knows quite what to expect from Edgbaston pitches these days. Steve Rouse, in his last year as the dedicated groundsman, has had the embarrassment of Warwickshire having points deducted for a sub-standard pitch earlier this season but he will already have been encouraged by England’s back-room planners (probably Hugh Morris or Geoff Miller) to leave as much grass on the Test pitch as he dares.

As usual, much will depend on the weather. Last year the ball seamed and swung at the start of the game under a moist and cloudy sky. Anderson, Broad and Finn bowled Pakistan out for 72, but the two best returns eventually were by off-spinners: Swann six for 65 and Saeed Ajmal five for 82.

Before returning to work England deserve a little basking in the light of Trent Bridge, but they did not take all the credit. India’s noble gesture to recall Ian Bell was, whatever some old pros might argue, absolutely in the proper spirit if the game. The essential point, which curiously seems hardly to have been mentioned, is that Bell, knowing it was teatime, left the field under the misapprehension that the ball had gone for four. You really should not be run out if you are not attempting a run, which is not, of course, to say that he was not extremely careless and quite correctly given out under the letter of the law.

England’s ultimate victory was essentially the work of the three Bs: Broad, Bell and Bresnan. Broad might easily have been made man of the match at Lord’s and indubitably was at Nottingham. That barnstorming, bold and brilliant 64, after England had been on the verge of a calamity at 88 for six when conditions were so inimical to batting on the first day, might have been the work of another famous England cricketer beginning with ‘B’. The five for nothing spell that followed on the Saturday was equally Bothamesque. And still there was a second rapacious innings (44 from 32 balls) and two more second innings wickets to come.

Should Bresnan keep his place? Surely so. If Trott is not fit but Tremlett is, there should still be plenty of runs if Prior bats at six, Broad at seven, Bresnan at eight and Swann at nine. It is a chance to look seriously at the five-bowler option with next winter in mind.

About Christopher Martin-Jenkins

One of the leading chroniclers of cricket over the past four decades, he is perhaps best-known for his commentary on BBC Radio’s Test Match Special since 1973. But he is also a former cricket correspondent of both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers as well as the BBC, besides having had two spells as editor of The Cricketer magazine. A fine after-dinner speaker, he played second XI county cricket in his youth and his son Robin was an all-rounder for Sussex from 1995 to 2010.
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5 Responses to CMJ: England’s ‘Three Bs’ should all play at Edgbaston

  1. CMJ, a good piece and I totally agree about the five bowler option. Even if Trott is fit, why not ‘rest’ Morgan and have a lengthy English tail, which thus makes allowances for Swann not making his mark again, and allows plenty of rotation for the quicks? Why is the Strauss/Flower policy so inflexible towards five bowlers, especially given that India’s batting line up will be much stronger at Edgbaston?
    Kind regarards.

  2. Ed Lamb says:

    I was in total agreement until the penultimate sentence! Why would you bat Broad above Bresnan….he bats like a bowler where as Bresnan tries to keep the risks to a minimum and plays like a batsman. In my view he should always bat above Broad. Broad has the ability to bat higher but until he stops going aerial so much and even taking on boundary fielders trying to hit sixes, then logic suggests he’s going to have some fantastic cameos but also extended periods of low scores….

  3. city hobgoblin says:

    Where on earth does CMJ get the idea that Boyd (presumably) Rankin is ‘in the wings’ for England? There seem to be a fair number of bowlers ahead of him in the queue. Some of them are even English.

  4. JackieL says:

    Good succinct piece on the Bell run out. A pity that the England former captains Atherton, Hussain and Vaughan, did not understand that simple point. It was one that Strauss and Flower clearly grasped. I think Bell and Bresnan could have had a few words of praise. Broad took the kudos for the first innings but the second innings was the work of Bell and Bresnan. Has Bell batted any better, with 24 boundaries at a SR of 77? Bresnan was magnificent with his 90 and 5 wickets. Bell was out of position, facing India (a poor record against them) at No 3 (another poor record) and he came in at 6-1 61 runs behind. An important century for him as well as for England.

  5. Gangesh says:

    Thanks, CMJ, for your pertinent, succinct piece on the last Test match. One point I want to make is related to the “Bellgate”: while MSD deserved credit for that wonderful gesture of recall, the question is if the English Team deserves such generosity given their ruthless, opportunistic cricket which they embellish as professionalism. There are many instances in the past when English team showed an abysmal lack of the hallowed niceties of the game by asserting that for them nothing mattered as much as success on the field, come what may ! It is their brand of “professionalism”. They seemingly held that end justifies the means. Nothing but victory matters. As an Indian I am delighted at MSD’s reinstatement of Bell, irrespective of his motivations in doing so. As a cricket buff I am overjoyed. One hopes English cricketers will learn, relearn and unlearn a bit from that incident. But then their history inspires but little confidence that they will deviate into sense.
    As for Team India’s performance, apart from that bright spot, little said the better. The IPL tamasha is bound to ruin our cricket producing players whose technique is atrocious against swing bowling. Barring Dravid and VSL, few could cope with the tough conditions in England so far. They seem a jaded lot; player fatigue is a major factor in both the Tests and not necessarily the supposed cricketing superiority of the opponents. Anyhow, I congratulate Flower-Strauss Co., on their triumphs.