My article on Cricinfo about Simon Jones’s replacement is up:
Replacing the Welsh swinger
The things the modern cricketer has to endure. Twenty years ago, prominent England players would have winced at the thought of sitting in an Oxygen chamber, no doubt scoffing at its supposed benefits. Simon Jones has little choice: after he injured his ankle in the last Test, England have been doing everything they can to patch him up for the final fling. He has been a key, reverse-swinging cog in England’s success this summer, and if he fails a fitness test, his replacement could hold the key to wrestling the urn from Australia’s 18-year-long grasp. Or not…
Who could replace him? His long-term understudy, James Anderson, is finally playing cricket regularly. For Lancashire this season, he has taken 48 wickets but averages over 30: this is not what England, or Anderson, wants. He’d played just three games for Lancashire in 2002, before England called him into the one-day squad against Australia the following winter, and his success was instant. But his confidence was fragile, and attempts by England’s coaches to modify his bowling action sapped it further still. He remains promising and, importantly, is still only 23, but England can’t afford to risk his selection in what is the biggest match of England’s recent history.
Chris Tremlett, 24 tomorrow, has usurped Anderson as the young, English fast-bowling hope but is yet to play a Test. He played three one-day matches earlier in the season, and performed reasonably well, picking up 4 for 32 on debut against Bangladesh, and the useful wicket of Adam Gilchrist in the following match against Australia. Importantly, he has remained in the England “bubble”, Duncan Fletcher’s protective cushion, throughout this series which signifies he is very well regarded. Indeed, his extreme height has excited many observers: he is 6′ 7″ and generates bounce from a natural short-of-a-length, something Michael Vaughan can testify to as Tremlett smashed a ball into his elbow at Edgbaston. For Hampshire this season, he has taken 45 wickets at 26 – a good performance, if not a spectacular one – but he doesn’t move the ball a la Jones. Worryingly, in Hampshire’s latest match against Warwickshire, his two wickets cost 98 runs and included six-no balls.
Paul Collingwood is desperate to play Test cricket again, to add to his two matches played against Sri Lanka in 2003. While he is primarily a batsman, his bowling has improved steadily this season with 19 wickets for Durham. He remains very much a wobbling medium-pacer, though and it is a front-line bowler England needs to win at The Oval. His inclusion would strengthen the home side’s batting considerably, and this could yet win the selectors over. England, after all, only need to draw the fifth Test to regain the Ashes. But the remaining England bowlers’ workloads would be become even heavier. He is in excellent batting form, though, and his catching and fielding abilities are almost without peer. His bowling won’t win England the Test, but his batting and fielding could.
England’s former pace bowlers Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough are both a year either side of 35, but each would give their eye-teeth to be a part of a successful England side, and especially one which has, at long last, dominated an Ashes series. Caddick, 36, last played for England in Sydney in 2002-03, a Test England won, but injuries have since forced him out of the side. Despite his age, he is still the leading English-qualified wicket-taker this season with 54 at 27.79. Meanwhile it has been rumoured, rather cheekily, that Gough was asked to attend a training session by England. Mind you, Gough is the closest like-for-like replacement for Jones: he was England’s best exponent of reverse-swing throughout the 1990s, but with age comes medium-pace. England’s consistency in selection has arguably been a key factor in their successes spanning two years, and it remains unlikely Gough or Caddick will buck that trend.
Whoever is chosen – and other names in the mix include Kabir Ali and Jon Lewis – it is unlikely they will match the skill Simon Jones has shown this summer. His rare and surprising ability to move the new and the old ball is almost irreplaceable. Britain will be praying the German doctors can work their oxygen-chamber magic on him; and for Jones himself, it would be devastating to miss the finale of a series he has played such an integral part in swinging England’s way.