England go into the second test against West Indies still smarting from the draw at Lords. At least they should be.
Given all the advantages in the match: a big first innings score; four centurions; helpful conditions for the bowlers; England should have easily wrapped up a win in three days. Instead, the Windies did an excellent job of derailing the England pace attack – so much so that it was Monty Panesar who looked most likely to swing the game England's way.
There is a lot of nonsense in the press about how “unlucky” England were not to have bagged an early series win. The fact is: the bowlers were not really up to scratch.
Bowlers win test matches. Batsmen get all the headlines, but bowlers win test matches. The opposition must be dismissed twice and England never looked capable of doing that. Of course, they were unfortunate to have lost Matthew Hoggard. Bowling with one short is no fun and can be a nightmare. Even though he found it difficult to get the ball to swing from the right areas, Hoggy's loss was a real blow; for it simply heaped more pressure on an already fragile Steve Harmison.
Steve faces problems that eclipse those of “fragile” cricketers from a bygone age. He is constantly in the media spotlight. The first bad ball he bowls is analysed minutely from a physical and mental standpoint. He is branded by the media as a “bit flaky in the head” and therefore all his problems are immediately brought into focus by the lens of the TV camera. This is unfair and probably untrue. Fact is he had an exceptional year in the Ashes win and has struggled to repeat that form. Whether or not he can become again a match-winner is problematical. He needs help from the other bowlers.
Flintoff is out. No help there.
Plunkett shows promise, sometimes. He is unlikely to win you a match, even at Headingly. Collingwood is really a batsman, and I question whether or not he's good enough at that!
So, some bowler or bowlers will have to be drafted in. Who? Nobody immediately springs to mind. Mahmood has been tried – perhaps he'll get another go. Sidebottom has been drafted into the thirteen – plenty of Headingly experience. Whoever is chosen they are unlikely to put the fear of God into the Windies batsmen.
And so, with the strength of England's batting and the West Indies reluctance to gamble by playing an extra bowler, best bet is another draw. What! At Headingley? Yep. That's my tip for the day. With some dodgy weather forecast for the weekend, I'd get down to Ladbrookes and get money on a tame draw. Or, I'd wait to see the result of the toss. England win the toss and bowl, possibly bet on England. Windies bowl, bet on draw. Looks that simple.
Last word to the West Indies press:
“The West Indies batsmen, as much as they may be willing to fight again, should find England's bowling too good for them at Headingley.” - Jamaica Gleaner