Batting balance is paramount - Miller
England’s batsmen must master the dividing line between attacking and irresponsible cricket in order to win back the Ashes, says national selector Geoff Miller.
Miller was at Headingley Carnegie on Monday to see Steve Harmison in action for Durham, on the day the fast bowler was recalled to England’s squad for the second npower Test at Lord’s.
Eighteen hours earlier, a defiant rearguard from England’s lower order somehow salvaged the first Test at Cardiff.
That they managed to do so, despite conceding a first-innings deficit of 279, and slipping to 70 for five in their second innings, only serves to underline the predicament in which England's tail were placed by the top order.
“We want to play positive cricket,” Miller told ecb.co.uk. “But we’ve got to work out that there’s a fine dividing line between playing positively and playing irrationally.
“Certain instances in the first innings went over that line. There were some bad shot selections. But they’ll know that - they are international and proven quality batsmen.
“I understand everything that goes with Test cricket, and the nerves that go with it. What batsman have got to do is work out a way to score big runs. They can score them as quickly or as slowly as they like.”
The most striking statistic to be gleaned from the first Test is the century count. Australia go to Lord's boasting four century-makers in Cardiff - Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting, Marcus North and Brad Haddin - not to mention Mike Hussey, who scored a hundred in the tour game against England Lions.
In contrast, three England batsman lost their wicket soon after passing 50 in the first innings.
“We didn’t score one hundred in that game; they scored four. That’s the benchmark for our players,” reminded Miller. “Basically we got away from that match without playing to our potential. Our batters got in and got out, and didn’t go on to score a hundred.
“It might have been a nerves factor, I'm not sure. We did everything we wanted to do; we picked the side we thought was right. We’d have liked to get more from our first innings so our spinners could bowl last on it."
Kevin Pietersen, England’s best batsman, is one of the players that Miller refers to. But the former England and Derbyshire all-rounder believes England's number four will recognise and rectify his mistakes at the next opportunity.
“I think it was a poor shot, really," said Miller, referring to Pietersen's attempted paddle-sweep in the first innings when on 69.
"Everyone thinks it was a poor shot, and I think Kevin does as well. He’s a far better player than that.
“That was above an error in judgement. It was a poor shot. And there was an error in judgement in his second innings as well."
Harmison, fresh from significant hauls for England Lions and Durham, is the only addition to the original squad announced for the Cardiff Test.
Miller believes the choice of 14 players allows greater flexibility, especially given Andrew Flintoff is doubtful with a knee injury.
“It depends how we want to approach it - whether to play an extra batter, one spinner or no spinners," added Miller. "We have all these options. Harmison could well play alongside Flintoff.
“At the first sign, Fred’s injury doesn’t look dramatic but you have to monitor it. It’s a concern because he’s getting some pain from it.
“It’s a long series so we have to make sure we get it right. We can’t play bowlers who can’t get through their allotment of overs.”
Miller stressed that Harmison was not selected merely on the basis of his roughing-up of Phillip Hughes and five-wicket salvo at Headingley, but on a noticeable attitude he has conveyed this season.
“We monitor it each game depending on different conditions and circumstances,” Miller explained. “It’s not done on guesswork. He feels himself, through conversation, that he’s up and ready to do it.
“If Steve performs well it will be a continuation of what he’s done. It looks as though he’s going in the right direction. Harmy’s bowled extremely well for Durham and in the Lions game. We’ve had some good reports. He has got that rhythm and hopefully he can show the same rhythm in a Test match.
“Our task is to try and assess whether he can transform his domestic qualities and domestic performances into the Test match arena. I’d like to think he can produce this form all the time.”