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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Paceman Plunkett bounces back

By Paresh Soni
BBC Sport at Edgbaston

England celebrate as Liam Plunkett strikes at Edgbaston
Plunkett struck three times in the first session at Edgbaston

During Sri Lanka's first innings at Lord's, a nervous Liam Plunkett was enduring such a mediocre spell that former England paceman Jonathan Agnew was moved to say: "I'm not sure what he bowls."

Geoff Boycott, as is his wont, was even more scathing: "I always ask: 'Is the bowler going to threaten me?' - with Plunkett I don't feel that."

A perception was growing that the young Durham paceman might not yet have what it takes to trouble international batsmen.

But the 21-year-old responded with some superb bowling on the final day of the match, which merited far better figures than the 1-85 on the scorecard.

Moving on to Birmingham, his overall Test statistics of four wickets from three games at an average of 80.25 did not make impressive reading.

Indeed, they were more akin to those of part-time or joke bowlers.

It was Plunkett who was laughing, however, as his stock positively soared on the first morning at Edgbaston.

A controlled and probing spell earned him three wickets and it would have been four if a no-ball call had not preceded Tillakaratne Dilshan being caught at slip by Andrew Flintoff.

Plunkett had finally arrived as a Test-class bowler and proved there are options outside the famous four seamers who helped regain the Ashes last summer.

The journey started just over 12 months ago when he came to prominence with a glut of early-season wickets as Durham strolled to promotion.

Nuwan Kulasekara drives Plunkett at Lord's
Things did not go Plunkett's way in the first Test at Lord's

Although the second half of the campaign was not as impressive, he finished with 51 Championship victims, earning him a call-up for the trip to Pakistan.

During that tour, county colleagues Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood were trying to convince the wider world that England had unearthed a raw talent that, once polished, could be a real asset to his country.

But even though his batting earned praise, it was difficult to see what Plunkett could offer as a bowler once Simon Jones - the man he replaced - was fit again.

In the third Test in Lahore and the second Test against India in Mohali, he looked largely innocuous.

With no slower ball or yorker to speak of, some questioned where wickets would come from on good pitches.

However, his willingness to work hard and his mental strength - traits coach Duncan Fletcher cherishes - won over the England hierarchy.

Further injury problems meant he kept his place for the first Test against Sri Lanka but when his radar failed and Sajid Mahmood found his to devastating effect on debut, the pressure was back on.

But Plunkett demonstrated what Fletcher had seen in him by getting the ball to dart around on day five at Lord's.

And he was even more potent on an essentially true batting pitch in Birmingham, seaming and swinging the ball around prodigiously.

The Middlesbrough-born paceman's action has been remodelled to prevent long-term back problems.

And now England supporters, not just Plunkett himself, have reason to be grateful for that.

After sparking the collapse which led to Sri Lanka being bowled out for 141, he looks like he might be here to stay - and messrs Boycott and Agnew may just have to revise their assessment.

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