Brilliance of Broad and Anderson Mustn't Mask England's Back-Up Seamers Issue

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Brilliance of Broad and Anderson Mustn't Mask England's Back-Up Seamers Issue
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Day 1 of the Fourth Test at Old Trafford was unequivocally England's, as an inspired new-ball spell of bowling from James Anderson and Stuart Broad ripped through India's top order.

After putting England in the field, M.S. Dhoni cannot have imagined he would be striding out to bat within half an hour, with India staring into the abyss at 8/4. With all eight runs scored before the first wicket fell in the fourth over, England's slips greedily gobbled up four catches as the runs column remained untouched.

Stuart Broad got one to seam away and take the edge of the recalled Gautam Gambhir before Anderson got in on the act with a double-wicket maiden, having Murali Vijay caught by skipper Alastair Cook at first slip before performing a cover version of that dismissal two balls later to remove Virat Kholi.

With four of his top six in the hutch, three with ducks to keep them company, you feel that if Dhoni were offered 152 all out at that stage, he would have gladly taken it. Especially since statisticians were casting a glance at the record books and wondering whether India's record low score of 42 all out from Lord's in 1974 could be under threat.

Fortunately for India, Anderson and Broad could not go on forever. Stuart Broad has long been nursing tendonitis in his knee and, according to the Daily Mail, is due for surgery once this series reaches its conclusion at The Oval in just under a fortnight.

James Anderson, meanwhile, has been burdened by the heaviest workload in Test cricket in the last few years, detailed by Andy Bull in The Guardian.

He has at times in the past year looked jaded as a result, especially after his 13 over marathon at Trent Bridge in the 2013 Ashes where he followed his ten wickets in the First Test with just 12 in the next four.

The problem for England is that they have become over-reliant on their formidable new-ball pair, who boast a combined 629 Test wickets.

The retirement of Graeme Swann, England's sixth-highest wicket-taker with 255 scalps before Stuart Broad overtook him on Day 1 at Old Trafford, over the winter has exacerbated the problem.

The wicket of Ajinkya Rahane just before lunch, from an edge induced by Chris Jordan, was the only wicket by a seamer for England other than Broad and Anderson in the last three innings. In that time, Jordan and Chris Woakes have sent down 72 overs. In this time, Anderson and Broad have taken 19 wickets in just under 106 overs.

It was clear that once England's change bowlers came on, the pressure on India was lifted for a time and the carnage subsided despite Jordan bowling well at times.

Anderson came back into the attack after lunch to account for Ravindra Jadeja, but India were largely untroubled at the other end until Broad found his groove again with four wickets in as many overs to account for Dhoni and then clean up the tail.

The brilliance of Anderson and, to a slightly lesser extent, Broad in the last two Tests have further emphasised the relative lack of contribution from England's back-up seamers. Plunkett did well against Sri Lanka on his home ground at Headingley and, like Ben Stokes, bowled well in patches at Lord's after slogging away gamely on a lifeless pitch at Trent Bridge.

Plunkett may well have returned at Old Trafford were it not for an ankle injury, but the fact he was "rotated" for the Third Test suggests he has yet to make himself indispensable.

Between them, England's third and fourth seamers have taken 15 wickets in this series at a combined average of 55.33, with Stokes producing the best stats with seven wickets at 33.14.

Anderson and Broad have enjoyed 35 dismissals at an average of 23.37 between them. The physical burden on the opening bowlers is also apparent in the 315.5 overs sent down in four Tests, compared with the combined load of 253.5 overs bowled by the other four front-line seamers.

When both are firing, as they did in the first innings at Southampton and again at Old Trafford, or when Moeen Ali is able to offer control and wickets as he did in the second innings of the Third Test, England can still thrive.

But when they dip below their usually high standards or simply need a break, India have enjoyed the release in pressure and made runs with relative comfort.

At Old Trafford today, this was not punished too harshly, albeit they would have been disappointed to see India pass 150 having had them 8/4. But the evening session at Lord's, where Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar helped India recover their first innings from 145/7 to 295 all out, was ruinous for England's chances.

Similarly, the 99-run stand in the second innings at Lord's between Jadeja and Kumar helped India post 342 to put the game out of England's reach, when a gettable target appeared plausible when India were reduced to 235/7.

The problem facing England at the moment is put into stark contrast in comparison with the contribution of third and fourth seamers in the most successful England sides in recent memory, even disregarding the immense contribution of spinner Graeme Swann.

The last time these sides met, England whitewashed India 4-0 to reach the summit of the world rankings, with Tim Bresnan taking 16 wickets in three Tests at an average of 16.31. This was following the imperious Ashes success in Australia where the absence of Stuart Broad for the bulk of the series was easily compensated for by others.

Bresnan excelled there, too, taking 11 wickets at 19.54 in the last two Tests, as did Chris Tremlett with 17 wickets in three Tests at 23.35. England even had the luxury of dispensing with Steven Finn for being too expensive, taking his 15 wickets in three Tests at 33.14.

The gold standard for England seam attacks in the modern era was the foursome of 2005, none of whom you would insult with the tag of "back-up seamersso easily applied to the likes of Jordan, Woakes, Plunkett and Stokes this summer.

In the successful 2005 Ashes campaign, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones all took more than 16 wickets in the series at under 33, combining effectively throughout.

Flintoff and Jones were the first-change bowlers, and there was no sense of respite for the Australians. Flintoff was England's leading wicket-taker with 24 scalps at 27.29 apiece and Jones topped the bowling averages with 18 wickets for 21 runs each in the first four Tests before injury took its toll.

Such a talented and varied attack of four seamers reaching their peak simultaneously is a once-in-a-generation scenario. However, if England are to prolong the careers of Anderson and Broad and develop a multi-faceted attack capable of regaining the Ashes next summer, at least one more of the quick bowlers is going to have to start troubling the wickets column with greater frequency.

None of the current crop are write-offs just yet, but in terms of pure talent, a rejuvenated Steven Finn looks the most likely to take the burden off Anderson and Broad and put fear into opposing batsmen. 

In the event that none of Finn, Jordan, Plunkett or Stokes can establish themselves in the Test side in the next year, there is an exciting group of youngsters coming through.  In addition to Stuart Meaker and Harry Gurney, who have both played limited overs cricket for England, there are many who have yet to step up to the senior level with huge potential.

Somerset pair Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory have taken 69 First Division wickets between them and represented England at various youth levels, as have Essex pair Reece Topley and Tymal Mills, and Leicestershire's Nathan Buck has come back strongly this season from injuries that hampered his earlier development after a promising start to his first-class career.

Of this quintet, Buck is the oldest at 23. The well is far from running dry, but sooner rather than later, England need one or two to step up and make the grade at Test level to reduce England's over-reliance on their world-class new-ball attack.

In the meantime, England should count themselves lucky that Anderson and Broad have struck a rich vein of form to put them in the driving seat in this series.

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