In his latest column, Daniel Grummitt writes that England's bowlers were down on pace at The Oval and asks whether the punishing international schedule is to blame.
The most troubling aspect of England’s thoroughly abject performance at The Oval against South Africa was, for me at least, their bowling. While others have focused on poor old Ravi Bopara and the perennially troublesome number six position as the cause of their problems, it is surely worth noting that all three of the seam bowlers – in particular Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan – were about 10mph short of the pace they were bowling at a year ago.
This is a trait which was also noticeable during the three-Test series against West Indies and particularly during the One-Day International series against Australia, but was made up for by either poor opposition, helpful bowling conditions or good performances elsewhere.
Steven Finn was one of those who made up for the failings of his more senior colleagues during the five ODIs against Australia. He regularly bowled at 90mph, while the likes of Broad and Bresnan toiled in the high 70s and low 80s, and should surely be recalled to the starting eleven for the match at Headingley. Indeed, Geoff Boycott is of that view, saying, “Finn will be in the squad for Headingley and he deserves to have a run in the side. He's been carrying the drinks for far too long. He's been playing well for his county (he has taken 27 wickets at an average of 20.93 for Middlesex in 2012) and we need to find out if he can play well at Test level."
Why England’s bowlers have dropped their pace is open to debate, although it must have something to do with that old chestnut; namely their overly onerous international schedule. Broad and Bresnan are both regular members of England’s team in all three formats and when one takes a looks at how much international cricket England have played over the past 18 months in comparison with South Africa it is revealing.
Since the beginning of this year alone, England have played twice as many Test matches as the tourists, more One-Day Internationals and the same number of Twenty20 Internationals. South Africa last played international cricket in March, whereas England only completed their meaningless ODI series against Australia nine days before the Oval Test match.
A look at their comparative 2011 schedules is even more revealing. England played an astonishing 37 limited-overs internationals last year in comparison with South Africa’s 18, as well as three more Test matches. What’s more, they hardly rested their key players at all such is their determination to be series contenders at the 2015 World Cup, whereas South Africa have carefully managed the workloads of their key players such as Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis.
Admittedly, both Broad and Bresnan endured lengthy injury lay-offs during that period, but that is hardly the point. What exactly caused those injuries? Bresnan hasn’t quite looked the same bowler since returning from his elbow injury, while Broad just looks careworn by the whole international cricket experience. Both men have lost that extra yard of pace which is needed in international cricket and which Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and even Vernon Philander possess. There are even echoes of the time when England discarded their experienced bowlers, Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison, after an equally embarrassing loss against New Zealand in 2008 and replaced them with younger blood – interestingly then it was Anderson and Broad - when they were deemed to have lost that vital 'nip'.
So who is to blame for this arduous schedule that has caused England's seamers to become no more than brisk medium-pacers? Well one man who isn’t is their admirable head coach Andy Flower, who has made the best of the schedule he has been given and must surely be desperate for a break himself. No, the blame lies squarely with the ECB and also Sky. An example of their madness was at the end of last summer when, because of a broadcasting deal agreed by the former with the latter, England had to play two Twenty20 Internationals against west Indies thanks to a contract signed during the Stanford debacle.
Nothing will change though. People have been banging on about England’s international workload for many years, and I’m sure will continue to do so, but the international schedule is set in stone for the next few years thanks to the ECB's big-money deal with Sky.
And, as we know, money talks.
© Cricket World 2012