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On the attack

Bob Willis Posted 20th March 2008 view comments

I was staggered that England's selectors were so ruthless with Matthew Hoggard in Wellington but it was a gamble that paid off in the end.

The batsmen are allowed two, three, four or five bad games but as soon as a bowler has a bad game they give him the sack.

I felt a bit sorry for Hoggy but clearly he and Steve Harmison weren't remotely match fit so James Anderson was given an opportunity and took he it brilliantly.

Sidebottom and Anderson: enjoying success in Wellington

Sidebottom and Anderson: enjoying success in Wellington

He bowled far better than I thought he was capable of doing and obviously the match that he played up in Auckland, getting in 38 overs, certainly helped him find his form and line.

Fortune

It was a good pitch to bowl on, so he was lucky from that point of view, but you have to take your chances and he certainly did that with five for 76 in the first innings and two more wickets in the second as England levelled the series.

England will start favourites - as they did for the series but they were half asleep in Hamilton. It will be tough to win the match but they certainly shouldn't lose it.

Bob Willis
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In tandem with Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom bowled superbly again and his transformation from a one-cap county player to the lynch-pin of this attack is complete.

His move away from Yorkshire was the catalyst for that transformation and given the responsibility of leading the attack at Nottinghamshire he has grabbed it with both hands.

A problem for England is that when Hoggy is not completely on-song and the ball doesn't swing, he doesn't have much to offer at all.

But Sidebottom, if the ball doesn't swing, just bowls accurate line and length and doesn't get belted around.

Hoggard was once an unsung hero of this side but the praise is beginning to come his way and rightly so because he has been a revelation to the team.

He is accurate and, if the ball does help him, he can get it to swing late - and he can reverse-swing as well. He is the complete left-arm bowler.

Youth

The third prong to the attack in Wellington was Stuart Broad and the young man put in a very encouraging performance.

I liked his aggression and I hope that he can keep bowling at a decent pace. He was prepared to shake up the Kiwi batsmen and dig it into them. His batting hasn't come off yet but there is nothing to say that he won't improve as a batsman. It was all tremendously encouraging.

Those three will face a completely different challenge in Napier for the third Test because everyone is telling us that it is the flattest wicket in the world. In the one-dayers 340 played 340 so I think the bowlers will have a much harder time of it and Monty Panesar will have a big part to play.

I can't see England changing the side for Napier which means Andrew Strauss will be given another chance with the bat and Owais Shah can perfect his role as waterboy.

I feel very sorry for Shah but clearly somebody high up in the England set-up doesn't fancy him as an England player because I would have thought that this tour was the ideal opportunity to see what he could do.

It is a fairly comfortable bit of rehab for Strauss. Life was tough for the batsmen in Sri Lanka but this attack is pretty modest really. If it doesn't turn - Vettori is bowling well but he isn't taking wickets in this series - there isn't too much that should trouble England's batsmen.

Strauss is a lucky lad to have the chance to re-establish himself on this tour and it is difficult to see how Shah is going to get an opportunity.

Legend

While the Test series is still up for grabs this week there is another very good reason to tune in through the night. Stephen Fleming will play his 111th and final Test match.

Fleming has been a tremendous advertisement for the game and for New Zealand cricket. A little bit like Nasser Hussain with England, he had to take over a very poor team and, although they lost plenty of series, he has helped New Zealand punch above their weight.

He is one of the best speakers about the game I have ever heard and he always conducts himself superbly. He plays the game in the right spirit, hard out in the middle but a tremendous ambassador for cricket.

He will be very sorely missed indeed as a sportsman and player. The New Zealand batting line-up without him looks extremely fragile. If Ross Taylor improves there is a bit of hope but there are three walking wickets there up at the top of the order at the moment.

Clearly they hope they will be able to put some runs together in Napier but Jamie How, Mathew Sinclair and Matthew Bell look hopelessly out of sorts at the moment.

It will be tough for either side to win in Napier if the reports on the pitch turn out to be true. Clearly the force is with England but it is going to take a tremendous effort to take 20 wickets on that pitch.

England will start favourites - as they did for the series but they were half asleep in Hamilton. It will be tough to win the match but they certainly shouldn't lose it.

If the bowling attack fires as well as it did in Wellington then they have a good chance of winning it and ending a poor run of form away from home in Test cricket.

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