Flat capped peaks, Ned Kelly beards and YOLO might be up there with the fads of 2013, but step ladder fast bowlers over 6 foot might give them a run for their money.
Prior to the recent Ashes series, Australia were considered rank outsiders. After coming off a 3-0 northern summer series, the home team didn’t stand a chance due to the strength of the English top order along with the tourists bringing their monster fast bowlers along. The theory was quite sound: Big fast bowlers will extract greater bounce on Australian pitches and they will exploit a number of weaknesses that were identified in the Australian batsman.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on which side of the pond you live in, we all witnessed that flawed theory. Ignore the fact that the highest batting aggregate was scored by Kevin Pieterson with 294, or the fact that the only hundred was scored by Ben Stokes (that’s for another day), the biggest let down for the English touring side was the third seamer.
In the first test in Brisbane, Chris Tremlett was the pick of the stepladder bowlers. He was to add pace, bounce and menace to the class of Broad and Anderson. However, it’s a bit of a head scratcher why he was selected in the first place. The first warm up game against the Western Australian Chairman’s XI, he took 1/123. In the second game which saw the tourists bat for 128 overs, Tremlett took 0/23 from 8 overs, while in the final warm up game, he didn’t even play. So despite only taking 1 wicket in the lead up games, he was selected over Steven Finn who took 11 wickets. What’s even more intriguing, is the fact that after the first test, when England flew to Alice Springs, Tremlett wasn’t picked to play against the Australian invitational XI.
This set the tone for the series as England struggled to find a balance and a foil for Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson.
Ben Stokes offered a little with the ball, but was more dangerous with the bat, while Tim Bresnan bowled tightly but was never penetrating or threatening to rip through the Australian order. Finally, in the last test, we saw Boyd Rankin look like he was cramping up after 10 overs and quite possibly could become a great trivia question in the future: “Who took their first test wicket with their last ever ball?”
When Australia were 6-132 in the first day of the first test, and we had witnessed the pace and bounce of Stuart Broad, every paceman in the English team were wetting their appetite waiting to bowl. They thought they had Michael Clarke figured out with the short ball. They would have felt they had Chris Rogers’ number. However, they never had plan B. The length that they continued to bowl proved their undoing. In particular, when Brad Haddin batted, he pounced on anything short and got Australia out of trouble in a number of occasions.
So despite the excitement to pick the monster to add pace and bounce and intimidate the Australians, what England found, was that they lacked consistency or venom to create any sort of difficulty. Tremlett’s pace was down, Rankin wasn’t match fit and Bresnan wasn’t penetrating. If it wasn’t for Broad’s efforts, then this series could have been a lot more one-sided (if that was possible). The selection of the three talls suggests it was done over theory and not based on performances. Consider this, Graeme Onions was the leading wicket taker in county cricket. Added to that was the selection of Tremlett over Finn in that first test.
Now that the dust (or ashes to use a topical pun) has settled, it’s easy to point the finger, however, when the powers that be (which may or may not include KP) sift through the wreckage, they will highlight the inability of the quicks to close out the Australians. On more than one occasion, they had Australia on the ropes at 5/6 down. Why couldn’t they finish them off? Why couldn’t Anderson adjust to the Kookaburra ball? Why wasn’t Tremlett bowling faster? Why bring Finn if he wasn’t going to play (in particular in Perth)?
Once the fad of nek nomination, memes and frozen yoghurt stores have moved on to greener pastures, line and length will remain the best tactic in a fast bowler’s armoury. Add to this genuine pace, and you have the ingredients needed to become a great fast bowler.