Harmison, Jones Or Ali, Can They Be England's Answer?

Greg SiddellCorrespondent IAugust 4, 2008

After South Africa wrapped up a series win against England with a test to spare, there has been a huge focus on England's batting frailties, which have been shown up by the swing of Steyn and Kallis combined with the bounce of Morkel and Ntini. With Vaughan being replaced by Bopara for the final test this week, leaves an even less experienced line-up, with the Essex all-rounder averaging just 27 from twenty-six one day internationals.

It seems however that the biggest problem England face is one the is being forgotten about. In two of the three tests played so far between England and South Africa have played this summer, England have only failed to get a winning position with the bat in the 2nd Test at Headingly. Setting 280 to win at Edgbaston should have been enough to bowl the Proteas out on a day four pitch and after a mammoth 593-8 in the first test at Lords, England should have been able to wrangle themselves a win in the series. The real problem so far in the series is that England are yet to take 20 wickets.

After two innings of the first test England looked to be in a strong position to win the opening test and take a commanding position in the series. However 167 overs and 3 wickets later, South Africa have never looked back. From this point England have never looked like bowling South Africa out for a match winning total. The top six of South Africa have all scored hundreds this series, with the exception of Kallis, who without the help of a sight-screen and a Flintoff yorker, surely would have had a century at Edgbaston.

With no England bowler taking a five wicket haul in the series its no wonder Englandhave struggled to bowl South Africa out twice in a match. Anderson, England's leading wicket taker this series has looked more and more like the test bowler that his potential has shown since he was first brought into the team back in May 2003, but even he is still not ready to lead the England attack. The return of Flintoff to the sidehas brought a bowler with an undoubted reliability to not give anything away and make the opposition work for every run, but his destructive spells similar to the one late on day 2 of the latest test when he removed Kallis and de Villiers are few and far between. With Sidebottom's back troubles and what seems to be a lack of swing from the Nottinghamshire seamer, Sidebottom looks a much less potent part of the Englandattack. Sidebottom has still managed to have the best average of the England bowlers in this series with his 6 wickets over the 2 tests he has played coming at 32.33 a piece. Discounting Darren Patinson's bizarre call up to the side after only 11 first class games the whole of the England attack has been below par, with Stuart Broad rested from the third test, but allowed to play in Nottinghamshire's County Championship game against Durham seemed a little strange after his batting exploits, but when you consider that in the first two test matches his 3 wickets have come at 96 runs a scalp, its no wonder that broad was left out in favour of a return for Flintoff.

At this moment in time, on current form, there is only one bowler who is ready to fill the void of strike bowler, Durham's Steve Harmison. His 43 wickets in the County Championship this season have shown he has found his rhythm and more importantly has found his pace, bowling consistenly above 90mph. The only problem with Harmison is his home sickness on away tours. The Ashington man is a very family orientated man and misses his four children greatly on tour, often effecting his performances. It may be beneficial to Harmison that it is only a two test series against India, meaning he will not be away from his family for a great deal of time and he may find his best form on tour. 

Other suggestions have been for Simon Jones to gain a recall. I find it strange however that for someone who is supposedly fit enough to play for England has to be rested from Worcestershire games. Jones does have an impressive average, but this is in the weaker second division of the County Championship. Even then Jones isn't even leading bowler and wicket taker at his own club, never mind the division. Kabir Ali, who has played one test match and 14 one day internationals, is the leading wicket taker at New Road this season and was recently the first man past 50 wickets.

Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett are other players bowling well this season who have tasted international cricket. Bresnan Started the season with a bang, with bat and ball, although he has tailed off in recent weeks, possibly caused by the twenty20 break. Liam Plunkett has been a revelation for Durham since his return from a side strain earlier in the season. His mature 72 against Somerset just showed how far he has come with the bat this season. His bowling has also been more consistent in recent weeks, as well as verging on 90mph.

If England want to salvage any pride from the series against South Africa, they must find a way to take twenty wickets. If they can manage that the batting will take car of itself as a bowling attack without Dale Steyn and an Ntini desperately short on form cannot fail to knock off any South Africa total if England manage to bowl the visitors out twice.