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England's Steven Finn, left, kept bowling on the leg-side against the Sri Lankan batsmen in their first innings of the Lord's Test match.
England's Steven Finn, left, kept bowling on the leg-side against the Sri Lankan batsmen in their first innings of the Lord's Test match.

England's bowling 'giants' don't measure up against Sri Lanka

James Anderson is being sorely missed as England pacemen have been below par in the second Test.

Before the start of the Lord's Test, most of the chatter centred around the vertical dimensions of England's pace trio. Stuart Broad is 6ft 5ins, while Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn stand two inches taller.

Cricket, however, is a great equaliser; size matters little in the game and that lesson was painfully evident for England as their giant pacemen delivered one of the most disappointing bowling performance for the country in recent times, allowing Sri Lanka to post 479, seven runs short of England's first innings score on day four.

The hosts scored 149 for two at stumps, with Alastair Cook batting on 61 and Kevin Pietersen on 15.

"Over the last 12 to 18 months we've set extremely high standards, and over the last two days we've been nothing like those standards," David Saker, the England bowling coach, said after the rain-curtailed third day's play.

"For the first time, I'd probably say there are some technical issues there. I've never seen this team bowl so many balls down the leg-side, and Matty Prior had a hard job over the last two days wicketkeeping to that."

There were no signs of much improvement when play started on the fourth day, 130 minutes later than scheduled because of rain. Finn fired the first one wide down the leg-side and followed with three more in the same region. That inconsistency remained through the day and Prior had a tough time again.

Still the 22 year old managed to grab two of the seven Sri Lankan wickets to fall on the day, finishing with four for 108 to become the youngest England bowler to reach 50 wickets in Test cricket. He even cracked Suranga Lakmal's helmet in one hostile spell.

Save for that brief period, when the Sri Lanka Nos 10 and 11 were at the crease, Finn and Tremlett remained wayward, forcing David Lloyd, the television commentator, to wish for James Anderson's return for the third Test, starting at Hampshire's Rose Bowl from June 12.

Anderson, a modest 6ft 2ins and missing this game after suffering a side strain in the first Test, was described as the "bowling captain" by Lloyd and his absence was certainly being felt.

Since the start of 2010, Anderson has played 14 Test matches and taken 67 wickets at an average of 22.41.

England have played 16 Tests during this period, excluding this one, and bowled out teams in 27 of the 31 innings, five of them for less than 100; the most they have conceded in an innings is the 481 at Brisbane in the first Test of the 2010 Ashes series.

Graeme Swann, the off-spinner who took three wickets yesterday, has played in each of those Tests, picking up 73 wickets. This means Anderson and Swann have shared 140 of the 291 wickets England have taken since the start of 2010. Broad has 30 from 12 Tests during this period, Tremlett 21 from five and Finn 46 from 12, 14 of those wickets coming from the first three Tests of the Ashes before he was dropped.

"It should go without saying that England missed Anderson's expertise as a swing and seam bowler at Lord's," Lloyd wrote in his newspaper column. "After all, he is head and shoulders above Broad, Tremlett and Finn in terms of wickets in the bank, if not in inches on the tape measure. But, almost as important, they also missed the wise words which he would have passed on to his less experienced colleagues from mid-off."

Saker admitted Anderson's absence was "hard" on the team. "But I don't think we should be hiding behind Jimmy's absence here," he said. "We should be better than that. We set higher standards, and just to lose one player and bowl the way we did ... I don't think that's excusable."

Saker would have been a bit more pleased with his bowler's performance on day four as they took seven wickets for 107 to stop Sri Lanka from taking the first innings lead.

Still, if England hope to achieve their dream of moving to the top of the Test rankings this summer, dethroning India who they host later, Saker knows his bowling giants will have to show a lot more consistency.

"We think we've got a really good crop of fast bowlers, not just here but back-up ready to slot in," he said. "This summer, they will be needed to deliver on that faith, especially when Sachin Tendulkar and Co come visiting.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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