Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Bowl dry or roll the dice?

England, it seems, are a team blessed with a veritable battalion of fast bowlers, all good enough to step straight into the test side. This means that while Bresnan, and seemingly Tremlett (according to reports) will miss the second test, England still have the luxury of choice, this time between Steven Finn and Graham Onions.

So with Tremlett looking like he's going to drop out of the team, who should come in? Well, the "let's play two spinners" argument has muted since last week because according to reports, Abu Dhabi is a spinner's graveyard. This, and Team England's stringent determination to never change a winning formula means that Monty's going to spend the next five days mixing up Maximuscle for Stuart Broad.

So it's between Steven Finn and Graham Onions. Leaving aside the sentimentality of Onions, who could play his first test in two years after a career threatening injury, and the next-cab-off-the-rankness of Finn, on a purely cricketing level, who should play?

Both offer very different things as bowlers - Onions is much more of a full-length swing bowler who's fast medium at absolute most, whereas Finn is easily England's quickest, and much more of a bang-it-in bowler. Finn has so much to offer an England test team - he's an aggressive, wicket-taking bowler who can genuinely frighten batsmen with his speed, but he has one obvious Achilles heel. His control. Simply put, Finn does have an annoying habit of gifting runs to the opposition through one or two rank balls per over, which really does count against him.

A lot of England's bowling game-plan is to dry up the runs and utilise the pressure that it creates to take wickets. This was seen only last week, when England dragged Pakistan back (sort of) with the ball by keeping the run rate low and the pressure constantly on - leading to a late flurry of wickets. Unfortunately for the bowlers, who all performed admirably, the batsmen hadn't put anywhere near enough runs on the board, so that will be the priority for Andy Flower, but would England have had the same late-day success had Finn been going at 4 or 5 an over?

Finn's control has improved since his last test outing, and he's developed markedly since he was dropped at Melbourne last winter, but the doubts do still linger. This England set-up don't much like gambling, and they'll see Finn as quite a punt. Onions is the safe choice, but do safe choices win test matches? England are one-nil down, and they'll need to win both of the remaining test matches if they're to come away from the UAE with a series win. It might be harsh to call Onions nothing more than a "steady bowler", but his reliability is what's got him this far - solid if not spectacular. Finn is far more mercurial, and while on a bad day he could go for a few, he'll more often than not chip in with some big wickets while he does so. It goes against England's play it safe attitude, but sometimes it's worth taking a punt, as the rewards could be spectacular.

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