Luke Wright should be given chance in Durban
It was almost a humiliating collapse to rival the first Test defeat in Jamaica last winter, but in the end some typically stout defence from Paul Collingwood and a priceless 1 not out from Graham Onions ensured the comparisons were more in tune with Cardiff in last summer’s Ashes series.
Under normal circumstances such a result might hint at a difficult tour to come but whilst that might be the case, England will have every reason to feel optimistic ahead of the Boxing Day test in Durban.
These are two evenly matched teams and England’s appalling recent history in the opening Test of a series will leave them relieved at having escaped intact.
That is the Cardiff factor. After James Anderson and Monty Panesar defied Ricky Ponting’s men in the Welsh capital they went on to dominate the next two Tests and there will be a belief in the England camp that history can be repeated.
But there is still much to assess for Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower over this Christmas week and once again the focus will be on the balance of the team.
First, pity poor Ian Bell. The Warwickshire man has become something of a liability in an England shirt, despite being arguably the most talented Englishman of his generation and his comic first innings dismissal was the kind of frustrating misjudgement which has plagued his 50 Test matches. His reputation as something of a choker has followed him throughout his career and the growing legions of doubters will have watched on smugly as he failed to offer any resistance in the second innings.
A pair of failures in a position where he has excelled in the past means that there is a ready scapegoat should England choose to add either a bowler or the all-rounder Luke Wright to the side.
Adding an extra seamer, most likely the left arm swing of Ryan Sidebottom, might seem the most obvious and more attacking option but there it also carries considerable risk.
Graeme Swann’s brilliant first innings effort highlighted the strength of England’s lower order but asking Swann and Stuart Broad to step up a place in the order negates much of this added depth. The lack of centuries from the top 6 since the beginning of the Ashes series is a serious concern which has been masked somewhat by innings such as Swann’s at Centurion.
Having Broad at no. 7 is fine if you are fully confident in the ability of your top five to play big innings but, when as often as not England have been five wickets down for scores of less than 200 it becomes reckless.
England’s bowlers might have looked short on idea’s for long spells last week but that does not necessarily mean they need extra firepower in Durban. Anderson, Broad and Onions are continue to improve at this level but they lack consistency and produce their best only sporadically ; particularly when the ball swongs.
Yes it is frustrating and yes, it severely limits England’s potential but in the aftermath of Flintoff’s retirement and with Harmision’s international days seemingly behind him we have to persist with these three inexperienced, mercurial bowlers.
With that in mind Luke Wright should be given his chance for the second Test. His stats might not paint the picture of a ready-made Test cricketer, but if he has been selected then he must be considered ready for the task. His ODI performances have been mixed but there is clearly talent and a mental strength that the England set-up have identified as of International quality.
Batting is considered his stronger suit and he would slot nicely in at no.7 but with a First Class bowling average of over 40 the perception is that he does little to improve the incisiveness of the attack.
That may be true, but what he lacks in class he more than compensates for in persistence and aggression and his role should be primarily to ease the strain on an attack playing their second Test in as many weeks in the oppressive heat and humidity of Durban. The new Freddie he is not, but Luke Wright has an important role to play in this current England side.