Cow Corner

Problems brewing after Cook’s move

Cow Corner

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When England decided to select four seamers and drop spinner Graeme Swann for the second Test against South Africa at Headingley, one of the more astute contributors to Eurosport's over-by-over coverage realised the implications almost immediately.

He was not worried about whether England could bowl out South Africa with such a one-dimensional attack, or whether England's seam quartet would struggle without the respite of a spinner taking over an end.

He was worried about the loss of Swann the specialist slip fielder, and whether Alastair Cook would take his place in the cordon. With an all-seam attack, the slips would come into play, and Cook's previous poor record in that area did not inspire confidence.

Sure enough, Cook shelled the first chance that came to him, in the 11th over from Alviro Petersen's edge off Jimmy Anderson. Anderson made no attempt to hide his anger, as a two-word phrase invoking Hades erupted from his mouth.

It was to prove costly, as Petersen went on to bat for the rest of the day to finish on 124 not out from 266 balls as South Africa closed the day on 262-5.

In village cricket, the fattest, least mobile member of the side is usually put in the slips so that he does not have to do too much running. But even in village cricket, the fat slip would normally snaffle up the chance Cook put down.

First under coach Duncan Fletcher, then under Andy Flower, fielding and catching have been prioritised in the England set-up. Cook is a decent short leg fielder, and his three catches in the outfield in the t20 quarter-final for Essex against Somerset last week suggests that he has safe enough hands.

But put him in the slips and it all just disintegrates. Yes, he took a good low catch to dismiss Jacques Kallis later in the afternoon, but at top-level cricket there is no way chances like the one Petersen offered should be shelled.

Nasser Hussain suggested during his television commentary that Cook has a technical problem, and that his elbows are in the wrong place when he attempts to catch the ball. If the former England captain is right, it is worrying that the England coaching and technical staff have missed it.

Then you add Steven Finn's technical difficulties to the equation. Finn had a bizarre problem in the early stages of his career when he kept falling over after the final step of his delivery stride. Now, he consistently brushes the stumps with his knee as he runs in to bowl to the left-hander.

He did it three times in his first two overs, and Graeme Smith went to umpire Steve Davis and complained that it was a distraction as he prepared to receive the ball. Smith was perfectly within his rights to complain, and Davis correctly called a 'dead ball' when it happened a fourth time. Unfortunately for England, that was the ball that Smith edged to Andrew Strauss in the slips.

Finn continued to clip the stumps in subsequent overs, and Smith had two fours chalked off for dead balls as Davis applied the earlier precedent.

Middlesex managing director of cricket Angus Fraser says that Finn is working with bowling coach Richard Johnson to sort out the problem. But this is surely an England problem? Finn has been part of the England system since the age of 16. How have the bowling coaches and analysts allowed Finn to continue for seven years with such fundamental technical faults in his run-up?


STAT OF THE DAY: England conceded 900 runs for three wickets when South Africa progressed to 120-0 in the afternoon session. Then, what do you know, the Proteas immediately lost the wicket of Graham Smith.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "Anderson and Broad really seem to have benefited from being rested for the final Windies Test..." - The Guardian's Jonathan Wilson takes a pop at England's rotation policy.

TALKING POINT OF THE DAY: That Finn incident prompted an official statement from the MCC. "Both batsmen complained that it was a distraction and Finn was told to move over. The umpires decided that if it happened again they would call dead ball. It did and so Davis called it under 23.4 (b) (vi). What the umpires feel is distracting to the batsman is entirely subjective, but Davis was within his rights to signal dead ball if he was sure that Smith was indeed distracted."

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