Cow Corner

Time for Jade Dernbach to prove he’s not another Saj Mahmood

Cow Corner gets things right with the regularity of a stopped clock, so you’ll forgive it taking you back almost two years to the day that Jade Dernbach was parachuted into England’s World Cup squad.

Dernbach was a surprise inclusion, and Cow's concern back then was that the Surrey bowler had been picked on potential, rather than performance:

‘Never mind his credentials as a cricketer, Miller explained that the Johannesburg-born bowler is "a talented athlete".

Now, forgive Cowers if he is overly cynical in this regard, but that very term used by Miller to justify the decision is in keeping with the likes of Saj Mahmood over recent years, and is less reassuring than, "he's the next best bowler we have".’

It is January 2013 and, apart from having played 20 one-day internationals and 18 Twenty20s, Dernbach doesn’t appear to have developed a great deal.

Dernbach is 26 now – he will be 27 before the county season kicks off – and he remains a man with no shortage of potential, but not enough substance at the highest level of ODIs.

You can understand why the selectors are seduced by him. He is strong, fast, and well-versed in a variety of different deliveries. Harness that, and you have a player who could uproot stumps and force improbable victories.

But variety is nothing without consistency, if you accept how illogical that sounds. If Dernbach is not in control of his varations, or able to bowl them at the right times, then they are worthless.

And the comparison to Mahmood is an apt one. Mahmood was picked primarily because everything looked right. He was as strong as an ox, blessed with a frame that could withstand the rigours of Test bowling. His pace was natural. All he required was a little nurture, and in the Duncan Fletcher era, some rough bowling diamonds were polished up and came out looking rather sparkly.

Mahmood was not amongst that number, sadly. For all the unplayable balls (and there were plenty), there was also an inevitable boundary-ball. It is spinners who are traditionally thought of as having a ‘release’ ball – the one which takes all the pressure off the batsman – because of the art and guile that goes into delivering the ball. Mahmood was equally capable as them of losing line, control and rhythm, and he could never find a way of correcting it for good.

The question is not whether the first part also applies to Dernbach – for now it most certainly does – but whether he has the mental fortitude to fix it, and remove it from his game.

He does not lack character. After some wretched leg-side fare in Rajkot early in the first ODI, Dernbach came on late with MS Dhoni looking to launch him out of the ground. He held his nerve and beat him with a slower ball - a wicket that finally put the game to bed.

In Kochi, however, the death-bowling skills which are thought of as his stock-in-trade deserted him. Yes, again there was the wicket of Dhoni, but there was also one leg-side delivery after another to Ravi Jadeja, each of which was helped on its way to the boundary. It made talk of keeping him in the team as a specialist seamer for the later overs, not unlike Umar Gul of Pakistan, seem fanciful.

At some point, an ODI career economy rate of 6.2 has to be looked at in more depth. Even Mahmood, often mocked for his lack of control, only gave away his runs at 5.85 an over.

A lack of compelling alternatives mean that he is unlikely to lose his place in this series, which gives him three games to convince selectors that his bowling will find a new level of consistency and class. James Anderson is sitting this tour out; Stuart Broad is waiting in the wings. Dernbach can bowl deliveries that might cause those two campaigners to sprain their wrist if they tried to repeat them – but those two have sustained ODI records that he can only dream of.

The question Cowers asked back in March 2011 was, "Who or what is a Jade Dernbach?"

The reality is that at this point we still don’t really know.