Get Carbs on board
Michael Carberry might be the man to energise England ahead of the final Ashes Test, argues David Fulton.
Last Updated: 18/08/09 4:33pm
Andrew Strauss is not the most flamboyant of captains but you sense he's a good man for a crisis.
He didn't panic after his team was bowled out for 51 in Jamaica so you can bet he won't panic after England scored twice as many at Headingley.
True, the stakes are much higher in an Ashes series but wholesale change is not the Strauss way; neither is sitting on his hands, however. Ian Bell was axed in the Caribbean and the same fate could await Ravi Bopara, the latest incumbent of the number three position.
Bopara is a fine player with a huge international future ahead of him but the same could be said of misfiring Aussie opener Phil Hughes.
Ricky Ponting recognised Andrew Flintoff had got the better of Hughes and the decisive call was made: promising young tyro out; more senior man with a lot still to prove (Shane Watson) in. Watson has gone a long way to repaying the faith with three fifties in three knocks; Strauss will have looked on with interest.
But knowing who to get rid of is only part of the equation. You have to know who you want to keep, and then the trickiest part of all: knowing who should come in.
If we again use Australia as the example, we must credit their selectors for sticking with the previously out of sorts Mitchell Johnson. Ponting's 'go-to' man in their previous two series against South Africa, Johnson had become a liability by the end of the Lord's Test leaking more than six runs per over, whilst rarely threatening the stumps.
Ponting's answer was to shield him from the limelight and the new ball, the fielding equivalent to moving a batsman down the order. That tactic and a lot of hard work from the player himself and the bowling coach, Troy Cooley, has seen a resurgent Johnson impact the series as we suspected he might at the outset.
That he bowled so well at Headingley might also be explained by the presence of a fourth seamer, something conspicuously absent in the first three Tests. Australia's success in the aforementioned South Africa series was based on four quicker bowlers and the part time spin of Marcus North, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke.
Four quality seamers ensures there is no respite for a batting side as there is less need for rotation and less need for the bowlers to have to pace themselves. If one of the four is having an 'off' day you can cover him. In a three-man attack it is nigh on impossible to manage such a situation.
Nathan Hauritz's inclusion was necessary at Cardiff but he should have been discarded for Stuart Clark thereafter. Hauritz's name will be in the mix for the Oval, however, given the playing surface's propensity for taking turn. Ponting will have selection headaches once more.
Strauss was bold at Headingley opting for five bowlers. I would take issue with anyone who said it backfired. It didn't. Bat that badly and you could have played eight batters. What didn't help was the continual speculation about Flintoff's fitness.
An earlier decision was needed as the sight of him limping through the eve of Test nets would not have been helpful for team morale. The 'will he won't he' scenarios would have permeated through the squad when clarity of thought and role were important for some of the other players.
The good news is that Flintoff appears to be on course to play a full role in the final Test. His ability to extract bounce from the Oval surface and to seize the key moments of any Ashes contest are huge factors for England.
Where there's Freddie - a fully fit one - there's always hope. I'm sure he was gutted to have been left out at Headingley but sometimes captains and coaches have to step in to save players from themselves. Strauss' dose of 'tough love' for England's talisman, albeit a touch belated, might just give him the chance to bow out of Test cricket as an Ashes winning hero once more.
This leaves the question of who comes in at number three should Bopara be relieved of his place.
The romantics have called for Mark Ramprakash but why now? It's not like he's suddenly batting better than he has for the last four years! Rob Key, the Kent captain, is another name much mentioned by the media. I opened the batting with him for nearly 10 years and know he'd be up for the fight.
He has the right character for Test cricket and was harshly dropped before the Ashes of 2005, but how well is he playing? A poor season by his high standards has only partly been remedied by a double century against Glamorgan in division two of the championship. He did score a hundred the previous week at the Oval - perhaps a good omen - but so did three other Kent players against a depleted Surrey attack.
My vote would go to Michael Carberry of Hampshire. He's an opening batsman but versatile enough to bat three or four in the Hawks' one-day side. He was brought up on the true bouncy pitches at the Oval and most importantly he's the form player in the country having scored three hundreds and a double hundred in his last four matches in the championship's top flight.
It would be a tough environment to make your debut but not any tougher than that faced by Graham Thorpe, who made a century at Trent Bridge against Warne and company in 1993.
Carberry would be a punchy call, but Strauss knows England need a player who can land a haymaker or two. He gets his runs quickly and would be electric in the field. It's a gamble for sure but a calculated one and now is not the time for playing safe.