With England likely to go 1 up this series has a case for 6th batsmen been made? For me it has not changed the equation playing 5 bowlers is been England’s strongest hand. Flintoff or not the question is the same as Flintoff was not a batsman. He mostly did not give the team balance just a much better bowling attack. At best former no 6 Flintoff had: 1 year with a batsman’s average: 1 with a base average for a no 6 batsman and other than that was a bowler who could bat at best.
You can can definitely make the case that a 5th bowler might have cost England the last test by bowling South Africa out sooner! I certainly accept that he would have made it slighter more possible that we could have lost and far more possible we could have won. Twice England had the Proteas 4 down and had to call off the charge – bowl the likes of Collingwood and Trott.
In this test we had the best case, 6th batter comes scores level and leads to a lead of 220 144 of it his. Of course writing in 144 every time for the 6th batter, in our case our 6th best batsman, is a mistake. Even without that 144 taken crudely England would be level with 4 wickets to get. England could be in an even better position if instead of Collie, KP and Trott someone else bowled and the other’s were fresher when their tail wagged.
The major argument for a 6th batter is that he is likely to be a better close catcher or fielder than a bowler. This is not to be sniffed at. For instance Collingwood may be border line test batter but since he’s worth 10 to 15 runs at least before considering his catching – plus he bowls some tidy overs.
Overall a 5th bowler keeps the rest fresher. He can offer variety and England currently only have 5 world level batters and no one world class at present. Why pad your weakness?
If we get into specifics Bell v Sidebottom. Bell has shown he is exactly what his record suggests a low leveraged situation guy – 300-4 backs to the wall fighting for place, nothing to lose and a tired and frankly tame attack he scores runs. First test when even an extra 20 ball stay in either innings makes a difference just lets the ball crown him.
Compared to say the Flintoff’s England team they bat deeper, have better fielders and actually “5th bowler” Sidebottom is a better bowler than Flintoff on the numbers. Without a 6th batter England are far stronger than they have been batting with a tail of the obdurate Anderson, Swann, Prior and Broad. All 4 of them at a level of greater than the 2005 Ashes side had for instance at 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Since the 2005 Ashes Sidebottom has been England’s best bowler. He offers variety because he is a left armer – more footmarks for Swannie to bowl into! Arguably the touring 50 averaging Anderson is not as good especially away from England – 2-99 this test, he’s improving!
Bell was dropped because he is not good enough. What’s changed? 1 good score under no pressure and 2 bad ones when needed much as his career suggests. Indeed his average is soft because at 38.90 it’s below the modern test replacement level (40 for me) and is very divided between pressure and non pressure situations – more so than a reasonable expectation of that difference. Cream on Top player.
England have also not had major injuries this series making it seem less an issue. However they refuse to ever not pick what they consider a best XI thus having an extra arm and legs could be more vital than a once every few series occasion when a 6th batsman might add something at a crucial time. This is before considering that our 5th bowler was world class 2 years ago and may be still now he is fit and our 6th batter is a proven failure after 50 test matches. England are not facing a team on the kind of pitches where someone could knock even the indefatigable Swann out of the attack. If that happened then it would look like folly.
Picking 6 batters is reflective of the defensive mindset of Flower and Strauss and the fact both are batsmen. Proof in test cricket is over series and years not one back to the wall nothing to lose innings. Bell and Cook proved no one wrong. It’s amazing the former is still getting chances to. His face must fit.
Best performers so far on what looks a flat un Broady 5-62 (all top 6 batters) in match in 29 overs giving remarkable control and Swannie 7-132 get in there.