Fast bowling is more important than wickets: Rob Key’s message to county bowlers

Rob Key (left) focuses on providing Ben Stokes with a battery of fast bowlers – Philip Brown/Getty Images

Rob Key has a simple message for fast bowlers in county cricket as he plots the next phase of England’s Bazball development. ‘I don’t care how many wickets you take. I want to know how fast you run, how hard you hit the field and whether you can maintain a pace of 80 to 80 miles per hour.”

At Kings Cross, Key is about to board a train north to meet Ben Stokes, his old friend Steve Harmison and England fast bowling coach Neil Killeen to discuss giving the England captain an “edge” with the ball, which means injecting youth and players. pace in attack to develop a “battery” of fast bowlers.

He reveals there is a ‘grand plan’ to get Jofra Archer to the Ashes, with Key accepting England need at least five fit and fast bowlers. Archer will play only white-ball cricket this year with the aim of being ‘robust’ enough for a Test return at home against India next summer and then the Ashes. “The real elite has great economic numbers and great strike numbers, someone like Bumrah, and Jofra is like that too. We take every day as it comes at Jofra. If it happens, let’s wait and see.”

Jofra Archer in the netsJofra Archer in the nets

England hope restricting Jofra Archer to white-ball cricket in 2024 can boost his physical resilience to be ready for a Test return in 2025 – Ashley Allen/Getty Images

Key also has a clear message for Ollie Robinson to increase his pace and prove he has the desire to become a Test bowler. Robinson recently made a poor return to Test cricket in Ranchi, bowling well below 80mph and once again limping off for treatment during the match. But Robinson averages just 22 in Test cricket with a strike rate of 49 and can beat any team on his day.

“Ollie Robinson is one of the best bowlers in the world at 83mph, but not at 75mph. It is clear what we need and what we want to do. I don’t care if he runs two kilometer time trials quickly. We’ll do what we can to help him with that, but it’s his career. He could be one of England’s best ever bowlers but we’ll see where he ends up.”

Ollie Robinson in the netsOllie Robinson in the nets

Ollie Robinson’s Test career is at a critical point after a lackluster return to attack in Ranchi – Gareth Copley/Getty Images

England’s batting is not a problem

After a poor winter that included a 4-1 defeat in India, a dismal World Cup, an Ashes draw last summer and 14 wins from 23 tests, Key knows it is time for England to move to the next level. He is pleased with the Test batting, believing they now have a solid top six and the strength to add Harry Brook this summer.

When he took over two years ago, the batting needed attention and it has been revived, even if it remains inconsistent against the very best teams. Only one side (Sri Lanka) has a higher average per wicket than England’s 33.81 and no one has scored faster than their strike rate of 72.44 runs per 100 balls since Brendon McCullum and Stokes started work.

Now Key acknowledges that it is time to look at the bowling and injection pace and the youth in attack. Bowlers like Josh Tongue and Matt Potts will get their chance in the series against the West Indies in July. Brydon Carse and Gus Atkinson also get matches with Matthew Fisher and John Turner in contention. Key is also watching with interest the progress of 19-year-old Josh Hull at Leicestershire, who has a quick 6ft 1in left arm picked up by the Manchester Originals in the Hundred draft this week.

“It’s clear to me. The next thing we need to do is give the captain more weapons with the ball. He doesn’t have to change anything. The way he leads is fantastic. Him coming back to bowl will help, but we need to make sure this now becomes one of the best bowling attacks England have ever had – sharper and faster,” said Key.

“Look at the past two years. We stopped the bleeding. What we did was put a real focus on hitting. If you look at the batting over the last two years, it has been extraordinary at times and frustrating at times for players and supporters, but the bottom line is we have a world-class opening partnership, a No. 3 who has become a leader in the group. , and whatever people think about the reverse paddle, we have no problem with our No. 4. We have Brook, Bairstow and the Captain. It is stable and in two years we have players who no longer believed in themselves, but now realize that they can do it. The goal for them now is whether they can be the best in the world, not just the best player in England. Same with turning. We now have four spinners that make you think: ‘Here we go, there’s something there.’ And we haven’t had any options in spin for a long time.

“The next part is bowling. We have had an experienced bowling attack in recent years: Jimmy, Broady, Wood and Woakes, Robinson. That’s why we signed the young bowlers – Carse, Tongue, Potts and Atkinson – on two-year deals, and Fisher, Saqib Mahmood and Turner on development contracts. They have to help us move forward now. Look at the best bowlers in the world: Cummins, Bumrah, Starc, Hazlewood, Siraj and Rabada. They are past the vertical bowling alley and are moving it away. They are all 85mph plus with high skill. That’s what we need.”

Saqib MahmoodSaqib Mahmood

Saqib Mahmood, who has barely played since his debut two years ago, is on a development contract as he returns from stress fractures – Jason Cairnduff / Reuters

Solutions for county cricket are on the horizon

England now has real-time data on bowlers from cameras worn by umpires in county cricket, but only about 10 percent bowl at the 80-80mph level.

Key has accepted that he can’t do anything about provincial schedules and pitches that wear out bowlers; instead, he must come up with solutions such as his plan to develop spin bowlers Shoaib Bashir, Rehan Ahmed and Tom Hartley, who will compete for matches in county cricket. He says Hartley’s best chance of playing for Lancashire, who have signed Nathan Lyon, is as a specialist batsman. “Yes, it is very sad, but what can you do?”

Instead, Key’s plan is to take the spinners on summer outings and create match scenarios at the ECB academy, working with coaches and consultants who specialize in spin bowling, such as Graeme Swann. “We have plans to give our spinners more bowling volume, whether that means bowling all day at Loughborough, and working with our coaches to keep them going. I have seen them improve so much in the Abu Dhabi camp. There’s nothing more fun than playing, but if you’re only going to bowl three overs on a green top before lunch, it doesn’t matter.

“We’re trying to figure out how they can keep getting better. In the summer it’s just about physically taking them and giving them a day of bowling, trying to recreate scenarios and things like that. You’re going to bowl 30 overs today, guys around the bat and recreate as best you can instead of sitting around and doing nothing. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing. English cricket has a problem with spin so we need to do something in the summer and get them out in the winter.”

Shoaib Bashir and Tom HartleyShoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley

Key devises a plan for Shoaib Bashir (left) and Tom Hartley to continue their development this summer despite the likelihood of being sidelined by their counties in April and May – Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Bazball rhetoric needs to be toned down

Key admits that England could be a bit smarter and tone down some of their overly confident public statements, but he staunchly defends Bazball, feeling that the country is too easily blamed for defeats and lazily labeled as floundering. He insists that the players put winning first and that most of their comments are merely an extension of management’s messages, which are intended to give the players confidence after defeats, such as when they went 2-0 lost in the Ashes.

“I remember saying to Baz when Bazball was first mentioned, ‘Look, it won’t be long before we have to defend whether this is the right thing or not.’ The idea is that to score runs you need to understand when to put pressure on bowlers and when to soak it up. To hit is to understand when those moments are. It was never about slogging from ball one. We want people to feel bulletproof and 10 feet tall, but not talk a lot of nonsense. That’s about how you deal with the media, engaging your brain at the right moments. But I don’t want them to change the confidence they have.

“The way we portray ourselves in public may irritate some, but it comes from a good place. The thing has been misunderstood, like there is no accountability and we don’t care. These guys strive to keep getting better and that’s what they’ve done. You don’t do that if you don’t care. As much as we can be smarter about what we say, these are young men learning how to deal with that stuff, so I can’t blame anyone. I’m not too worried about it.”

The next leg is the World Cup in June, where England defend the T20 crown they won in Australia in 2022. After a dismal World Cup in India in November, where they barely reached the top eight, it is likely to be a career-defining tournament for head coach Matthew Mott, with the team desperately needing to evolve.


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“Teams have three phases. There is a beginning when there are all these opportunities and new players and a new style are thought of. Then you maintain the success, just like that white-ball team did for a long time, but then there comes a time when you start to fall off and try to get back to where you were,” Key explains. “That’s where we were at the Over-50s World Cup. We now need to get this team back to the stage where they once again see the opportunity to bring in some new blood so that we can combine younger players with older players. We need them to think about what the next evolution of our white-ball team is, and not to stick with what we already had.”

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