Ashes HQ ASHES HQ 2009

Hilfy- Player of the Series So Far

It’s a little harsh on the four Aussie batsmen who tonned up in their only innings of the tour, but for my money, the most impressive player so far has been Ben Hilfenhaus. The last name on the teamsheet for Australia at Cardiff, and the most controversial selection to date, he’s also been the best player on either team.

Two bits of bowling stand out for me yesterday. The first was Hilfenhaus’s setting up of Ravi Bopara with five inswingers followed by a straight ball that did nothing for a straightforward lbw. To have the accuracy to do this- bearing in mind that his pace is generally around 87-92mph- is a massive achievement in itself. Of everyone who has bowled so far this series, only Hilfenhaus has been bowling well enough to execute the plan to perfection. Not only that, but having also caught out Kevin Pietersen with the non-swinger last Sunday, he’s starting to put serious doubts in the minds of players over what they have to play at. There’s no question in my mind that his setting up of Ravi Bopara contributed to the dismissal of Andrew Flintoff later that day.

The other piece of bowling that impressed me was the solitary bouncer he bowled in the entire day, to Kevin Pietersen. When Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle were being pulled off a length by Alastair Cook, Hilfenhaus continued to pitch it up and keep the batsmen under pressure. Then, when he saw Pietersen look uncomfortable, he threw in the short delivery which was top-edged inches short of keeper Haddin.

England should know plenty about the overuse of the short delivery. It scuffs up the ball early, tires the bowlers, gives away easy run-scoring opportunities if not consistently well directed and poses no threat to good batsmen. Bouncers work best as a surprise weapon, and Hilfenhaus uses his sparingly to great effect.

Unlike team-mate Peter Siddle, who excited fans and terrified onlookers by hitting Graeme Swann all over his body in a short period before tea on Sunday. For all the pain he caused Swann, he didn’t get him out, and he crucially stuck around for another hour before being dismissed, almost inevitably, by Ben Hilfenhaus.

Those two moments alone barely do credit to the consistency with which Hilfenhaus has bowled, nor do his seven wickets so far @ 28 quite do him justice. He’s been undoubtedly the best bowler on either side, in terms of both wicket-taking threat and building pressure. On very flat pitches, plenty of batsmen have stepped up, but he’s the only bowler to excel when everyone else has struggled.

So here’s to Ben Hilfenhaus, the guy least was expected of who has thus far delivered the most. Cue him bowling terribly this morning…

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