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    December 24, 2006

    A tall seamer and a spinner

    No, not they (or indeed they [2]), but he and he!

    England have lost the Ashes. At this stage, there are only two things that are important for the Test team: avoid the green-and-gold-wash, and sort the side out for the future. The first seems achievable enough, as all three Tests so far have gone to the fifth day. A little more application and a draw is not beyond England's reach.

    The second is more difficult. The side as it started the series is clearly not the model for the future, but none of the players currently in the side are anywhere near retirement age. Monty Panacea should be a fixture as the first and only spinner. His batting is not as bad as made out - Hoggard's form of late has been far worse - and his fielding is improving. England don't have the spinners to consider playing two except on dustbowls, especially when their best two are left-arm orthodox. The nonsensical and oh-so-English media campaign to bring him into the side as England's saviour should not disguise that he is a very good bowler with an action that looks unlikely to break down and a temperament to match.

    (A quick digression about Monty. Yes, he's exuberant, but apart from that, doesn't he remind you a bit of Glenn McGrath if McGrath was a spinner? He doesn't do too much with the ball, but he can move it a lot if needed; his main weapons are bounce and accuracy; he seems to be pretty much unflappable; he has bedded in at number 11; and he fields in the deep.)

    The batting is fairly solid. Paul Collingwood again appears to be the most vulnerable, if only because Andrew Strauss is now the senior batsman (he's been playing Tests for less than three years), Ian Bell and Ali Cook will be persisted with, and Kevin Pietersen would storm off to play for Ireland moaning about quotas if he was dropped. If Michael Vaughan came back, that would complicate things, but if Michael Vaughan came back his knee might not last very long anyway.

    With the quick bowlers, Hoggard will play. Flintoff will play - whether at six or not is another matter. Harmison may play, as retirement from ODIs is by no means the end of a player's career (ask Shane Warne). Harmison is different, though. There is a sense that he is retiring in instalments rather than making this decision to prolong his career. English cricketers don't seem to hang around at the top for as long as those of other countries.

    Sajid Mahmood could well be the future. It's difficult, because he's so unreliable. He seems to have very little control at times, but apparently this is not a mental issue - the word is that of all the England team, he's the least likely to be affected by sledging, and the least likely to lose his head at a crucial moment. The problem is purely technical, getting him to work out a way of bowling that he can fall back into with little effort. What would help in this is getting bowling, but Andrew Flintoff bizzarely under-used him at Perth. If there was one ground in Australia that, according to stereotype, you would say was made for Mahmood, it would be Perth.

    The most important thing is not to rush to judgement. Two years ago, a raw quick bowler was ignored by his captain on a tough away tour even though Harmison had yet again gone wonky. It wasn't Mahmood, of course, but the man who last summer became a nightmare for the Australians: Simon Jones. There's no reason Mahmood can't go on to be even better than Simon Jones. He has the pace, although he is less skiddy. Whenever he bowls, I always find myself wondering where the effort is. The limbs are loose as he bounds in, and then he just seems to roll his arm over before the ball is fired down.

    So, Andrew: please let Sajid bowl in Melbourne. You have a five-man attack which contains a reliable, calm spinner. Let the quick bowlers bowl shorter spells, let them come charging in. Please? Merry Christmas, everyone.

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    Thus spake Geoff @ 5:08 PM |
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