Sunday, 19 November 2006

Harmison’s withdrawal mars England’s encouraging endeavors

England’s game with South Australia was certainly another encouraging step in their preparation for the Ashes. Runs for Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, together with wickets for Matthew Hoggard and a heartening display from Andrew Flintoff, ensured the side are shaping up well for the First Test.

However, Steve Harmison had to pull out of the tour match with a side strain. Though it seems certain he will be fit for the First Test, after he was able to field for much of the last day, he is palpably not at his best. But, if he finds his rhythm at Brisbane, a pitch that certainly suits his enigmatic talents, he could easily prove a match-winner. His replacement, Sajid Mahmood, scored an aggressive 41 but was wicketless while going for more than four an over in the match, proof that, for all Mahmood’s undoubted potential, James Anderson certainly deserves to play in the First Test, especially as reports suggest the Gabba will be conducive to swing.

In Harmison’s absence, Matthew Hoggard bowled terrifically on the opening morning to restrict South Australia to 25-4. Yet he was unable to claim any victims thereafter, suggesting his effect with the old ball may not be great during the series.

Duncan Fletcher professed he would pick his Test side for this game, though this aim was ended by Harmison’s injury. If he is true to his word, then Monty Panesar will play ahead of Ashley Giles. Panesar’s endeavors in this game were respectable enough; but, in 35 frugal overs, he claimed only two wickets. Nonetheless, Panesar offers a much greater threat than Giles, and it would be a travesty if his batting and fielding, which are both improving, prevent him playing the First Test.

The runs made by Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood mean each of England’s top six have made a half-century in the warm-up games; number seven Geriant Jones made an pugnacious 33 in this game. Bell’s 132, made against Jason Gillespie and the impressive Shaun Tait, bodes well for the task he faces at number three in the Ashes.

England are not yet in peak condition but, after the horrendous start to the tour, they have progressed nicely in the last two tour games. How frustrating, then, that both games have been bereft of potentially intriguing fourth days.

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