The fact is simple: England need to win this match to retain the number one Test ranking.
If England don’t win, South Africa will become the new No.1. England will drop down to No. 2.
But it could get even worse: if England fail to win and the Aussies beat the West Indies in a three-nil green-and-gold-wash, England would drop down to No. 3.
That’s below… Australia. Oh dear.
Here’s another fact: Stuart Broad has left the tour due to a calf injury.
As a side note, Bob Willis (a man who knows something about bowling no-balls) has recently said that he thought it could be Broad’s carried ankle injury that made him no-ball eight times in the first Test.
I don’t know if Broad’s calf injury was caused by his compensating for his dodgy ankle.
But former very fast bowler Michael Holding has many times said that, when a fast bowler is carrying an injury, the bowler tends to spread the load onto muscles unaccustomed to that extra strain. This increases the chance of a new injury.
But now is not the time to bury the lead under bowling bio-mechanics. So who will come in for Stuart Broad?
The answer is six-foot-eight Stephen “the Fonz” Finn. If you don’t understand the nickname, just look at a recent photo of him and you’ll see what I mean.
The Fonz now routinely bowls over 145km/h and has even hit the genuinely quick 150km/h.
Here is the meat of the matter: there is not an England-qualified batsmen outside of the current squad who is a better batsman than Matt Prior. So wicket-keeper Matt Prior is the de facto number six batsmen.
In fact, Prior’s batting average of 43 is apt because it is the average of a number three or four specialist batsmen.
So now the discussion is narrowed down to who bats at seven? Ravi Bopara, Samit Patel or Tim Bresnan?
Let’s look at some salient statistics.
Ravi Bopara (six-foot-eight; born in 1985) is a talented but under-performing batsmen who routinely plays one shot too many.
His Test match record is mediocre at best. In 17 innings he has averaged 34.56 (although his average is boosted by three centuries against a weak West Indies side). He has taken one wicket for 212 runs, conceding 3.9 an over.
Bopara’s first class batting average is 41.66 from 123 games. With the ball he has taken 134 wickets at 42.93.
Samit Patel (five-foot-eight; born in 1984) boasts 5645 first-class runs at 40.90 and has taken 134 wickets at 38.14.
Like Bopara, a bowling average above 35 is too high to be useful at Test level. It’s not filth but it is the average of a filler, not a fifth.
The obvious question that springs to mind is why are Samit and Monty Panesar (142 test wickets at 33.33) playing in the same team?
Monty is a sensitive soul who always tries his best. I doubt the extra pressure of having a rival left-arm spinner in the team will get the most out of him.
Keeper Prior frequently plays alongside Monty at Sussex because neither of them play ODIs. As such both are available to play for the South Coast county.
Notice how, from behind the stumps, Prior continually encourages Monty. That’s because he needs it.
Many a spinner would be insecure and unsure of their place in the side if they were a rabbit who couldn’t catch. Worse still, if they were also the number two spinner behind the jocular Graeme Swann.
Swann qualifies as a bowling all-rounder because he averages over 20 with the bat. He can also field at slip and is a world top-ten bowler.
Monty doesn’t want to be battling Samit for the second spinner spot.
Tim Bresnan (six feet; born in 1985) has played 10 Tests. He has scored 318 runs at 45.42, with a highest score of 91. He has three fifties from eight innings and only one average-boosting not-out.
Not-outs are important to consider because although they boost an individual’s batting average, they don’t help the team and they might also be a sign of a selfish player.
In bowling, Bresnan has 41 wickets at 23.60, with an economy of 2.85.
England have won every match he’s played in.
In first-class cricket, Bresnan has scored 3319 runs at 28.61 and taken 298 wickets at 30.69.
It is important to note that he plays at Headingley, in unfriendly conditions for batsmen, and started his first-class career at 16.
It’s also worth noting that there are two Bresnans. The one who used to be overweight, and the one who looks like a muscular rugby league player.
It’s the latter who has put in his Test foundations, which reflect better than his overall first-class record.
The Bresnan that came back from an elbow injury for one ODI against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in February was overweight.
He had a visible spare bicycle tyre and chubby cheeks, and was 10km/h slower than usual, bowling 130 instead of 140.
I’m picking an in-shape Bresnan as my number seven.
The statistics for number sevens around the world are as follows.
Matt Prior: 2747 runs @ 43.60 (6 hundreds and 19 fifties)
MS Dhoni: 3509 runs @ 37.32 (5 hundreds and 24 fifties)
Brad Haddin: 2257 runs @ 35.82 (3 hundreds and 10 fifties)
Prasanna Jayawardene: 1678 runs @ 32.90 (4×100, 4×50)
Mark Boucher: 5515 runs @ 30.30 (5 hundreds and 35 fifties)
Carlton Baugh: 527 runs @ 18.17 (3 fifties)
My team for the must-win second test is Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar.
Anderson is batting like a number nine these days, anyway.
England also needs a third seamer so that they are not bowling two spinners against a Sri Lankan tail, which plays spin better than fast bowing.
Also, a fast bowler at one end tends to make tail-enders play more recklessly against the spinner at the other end.
The bottom line is, why pick an iffy batsmen who bowls a bit, instead of Bresnan, who is a proper bowler who bats at least as well as a normal number seven.
If Boucher can bat at seven, why not Bresnan?