By Paul Norris
It’s Friday afternoon. I’m at work, tired, because I stayed up late for no particular reason, and my boss has gone home. Any kind of distraction is very welcome, but England against India tomorrow seems to be dominating my thoughts.
We’re almost halfway through a fairly meaningless, but nonetheless, interesting series & I’ve chosen to focus my attention on two men I’ve played against: Jade Dernbach and Ashley Giles. Now, that last sentence might make it sound like I’ve played at a very high standard, but it’s worth remembering that Dernbach was a very late starter to the game. He was possibly in his first ever senior season, aged about 15 or 16 at the time.
Predictably, he was nowhere near as good as he is now, and didn’t even stand out in a side who we considered our weaker local rivals. In Gilo’s case, it was football, not cricket, which took us to the same playing field.
For any coach of any team, an ODI & T20 series away in India is a seriously tough first assignment. Given England’s recent ODI history in the country, anything better than defeat in both series could be seen as a credible coaching debut. Add to that mix the fact that the world is watching with keen interest how the split coaching setup will work, and that he doesn’t have arguably his three best bowlers at his disposal, a baptism of fire does not seem like an exaggeration.
Bearing in mind all of the above, the fact that this series is still level at 1-1 should probably be seen as an achievement from England’s point of view. The T20 series result of 1-1 was a decent one as well. It does not, however, paint over certain weaknesses, most notably, with the bowling. James Tredwell has deputised very competently for Graeme Swann, but overall, the weakened pace attack looks exactly that. It could easily have been Tim Bresnan, who has not really looked threatening at any point during his stays in India, but to me, a bigger concern is the Surrey paceman Jade Dernbach.
It’s easy to see why England would want him in the side, especially on the sub-continent: He might not be lightning quick, but has the capacity to touch 90 MPH in between using variations. He might not be a big conventional swinger, but his slingy action does create a hint of reverse. His variations are well-renowned, and he has a more than useful Yorker. What more could you want from a death-bowler?! He has all the tools to be effective, but arguably he doesn’t utilize his skills well.
Well, here’s where the problems lie: Firstly, ‘the Yorker’ has seemingly been banished. Dernbach burst on to the scene with a brutal and effective yorker, especially at the death, yet it seems to have been let go. This is where Giles and Saker should be stepping in and encouraging the likes of Dernbach to attack stumps more. The same could also be said for any of England’s other pace men, so arguably it would be unfair to single out Dernbach alone for this, but he is seen as a specialist. Secondly, he may be a death bowler, but he has been leaking runs both with the new and old ball. It dosn’t seem as if he is an effective new-ball bowler; although Bresnan is not really either, so somebody has to do it, and he was very expensive and innefective at the death in the second ODI.
His control of it has been pretty ordinary and he has neither looked like keeping the runs down, or taking wickets with it. If England had a genuine new-ball bowler to partner Steven Finn this series, it may even be a legitimate tactic not to hand Dernbach the ball until the 30th over & let him do what he does best.
The problem with that is that he’s not been keeping the runs down at the death either. Any death-bowler can go for plenty on a bad day, even without bowling badly, and a certain MS Dhoni is probably the best ODI finisher in the world. This could, however, easily be used as an excuse for the 110-odd runs England leaked in the last 10 overs of the last ODI. I’ve read various comments saying that Dernbach has absolutely hundreds of variations. Arguably he has one, perhaps two, he just uses them far more regularly than most genuinely quick bowlers use theirs. Why would you want to bowl so many variations when you can bowl at 90 MPH regularly ?
Perhaps it is David Saker who needs more attention as to why the coaches have not managed to channel Dernbach’s variations to maximise their effectiveness. It’s well-documented that he specialises in the mental rather than the technical side of bowling, so I’d like to know what he’s been advising Jade to do:
Has Saker not been asking him (and in fact, the other pacemen) to bowl Yorkers? or have the bowlers themselves not got the skill, nerve or intelligence to pull it off at will? Clearly at the death the hardest ball to hit is one of full and straight length. Has England’s bowling coach not considered encouraging Dernbach to bowl more within himself in order to regain some control and confidence? To pick a stock ball and variate around that, or perhaps ultimately could it be the case that Dernbach is actually not International standard yet. Dernbach has shown he cannot use his slower ball to best effect, even though it is one of the best slower balls in the world arguably.
So what could Ashley Giles do to improve the situation? As a short-term measure, Dernbach should be replaced, with Meaker in the squad, despite having looked unimpressive in his T20 outings, Meaker is pacey and has more control. Another option is Danny Briggs, who could offer another spin option, and of course some new blood and a potential future replacement for Graeme Swann.
James Tredwell has arguably been the pick of England’s bowlers this series which is encouraging, and both Samit Patel and Joe Root have kept bowled both economically and bowled intelligent and controlled spells. If the part-timers can do it, why not bring a full-timer in to see if he can do it even more so. This doesn’t necessarily solve the death, or the new-ball problem (unless you give Briggs the new ball?). It would put pressure on Woakes or Bresnan to deliver during the happy-hour, that is the last 10 overs. Both have looked impotent and pedestrian when they have lost their lines or if the ball doesn’t swing (conventionally or reverse)
If the extra spinner is not considered a viable option, Giles and Saker need to promote Dernbach’s consistency and control with stock balls and when to use variation. Currently he is strong at the beginning but falls away nearing the end of an innings.
It’s also possible that people will say I’m being too harsh on Dernbach here: He does, after all, bowl at a time when bowlers expect to go for runs. None of the other quicks have crowned themselves in glory either. He also produced an absolute beauty to remove Gambhir in the last game, and did give even Dhoni the occasional problem.
It’s an interesting conundrum for Giles: One could argue that this is the first big test of his coaching and decision-making skills at this level. England will surely need all of their bowlers to stand up if they are to come away from India with a historic series victory.
Follow Paul Norris on Twitter @noz3112