ALL the talk leading up to the second Ashes Test has been of Yorkshiremen.
Which of Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance will come into the team if England decide not to pick Ben Stokes?
Will Joe Root remain in the middle order or will he be moved up following Jonathan Trott’s departure home due to a stress-related illness?
The talk intensified yesterday following the return from injury of Tim Bresnan, the fourth Yorkshireman on the trip and one who could well hold the key to England’s hopes of retaining the Ashes.
The statistics show that England are a much better side with Bresnan than without him.
In his 21 Tests, he has been on the winning side 15 times and the losing side just twice.
England won all of his first 13 Tests before the Birmingham weather and some dogged West Indian batting consigned his 14th last year to a draw.
Only Australia’s Adam Gilchrist (15) was on the winning team in more consecutive Tests from the start of his career.
Bresnan, in short, is England’s talisman.
He brings, if clearly not a 100 per cent guarantee of success, then certainly the strong likelihood of it.
He does not do this all off his own back, of course, but he balances the side with his reliable pace bowling, while his batting is handy and his fielding impressive.
England look more solid and settled with Bresnan in their ranks, and certainly less prone to the type of embarrassing defeat witnessed in the first Test at Brisbane, where Australia won by 381 runs.
Brisbane it was – albeit in the less stately surrounds of the Allan Border Field as opposed to the 40,000-capacity Gabba – where Bresnan yesterday took another step towards a full England recall.
Having flown out with the Test squad to continue his rehabilitation from a stress fracture of the back, which ruled him out of the latter part of the English season, the 28-year-old had been working hard on his fitness in the nets.
The acid test, however, was always going to come when he returned to competitive action this week for the England Performance Programme in their three-day game against a Queensland Second XI, which was scheduled to finish this morning.
Although the standard of opposition was some way short of that which England will face at Adelaide next week, Bresnan could be satisfied with figures of 4-31 from 10 overs to follow an unbeaten 57 in the first innings of a match in which Yorkshire’s Alex Lees is also taking part, the 20-year-old contributing scores of 24 and 6.
For all of Bresnan’s progress, however, the feeling Down Under is that he is more likely to return for the third Test at Perth, which starts on December 13, and that England may keep faith with Chris Tremlett at Adelaide.
This feeling is supported by the fact that Andy Flower, the England team director, and David Saker, the bowling coach, did not stay in Brisbane to watch Bresnan’s return, continuing instead to Alice Springs where England are playing a two-day game against a Chairman’s XI in which Bairstow, Ballance and Stokes were poised for a three-way shoot-out.
However, Ashley Giles, the England one-day coach who is with the EPP, confirmed that Bresnan is set to rejoin the Test squad and described his comeback as “a big bonus”.
It raises the possibility the 28-year-old could yet feature next week as England chase a much-needed win.
Asked whether Bresnan is close to full fitness, Giles said: “He looks it.
“It is always good to see someone like Bresnan back up, and fit and firing.
“He bowled well (yesterday), with good control and decent pace as well.
“The most important thing for us was he came through the day strongly.”
Bresnan had not played a competitive match since breaking down in the fourth Ashes Test at Chester-le-Street in August.
His Ashes record is good; in five Tests, he has taken 21 wickets, while his ability to reverse-swing the old ball was key in the victories at Melbourne and Sydney three years ago.
If Bresnan is fit, there must be a strong argument for drafting him back straight away – particularly if Bairstow or Ballance get the nod over Stokes, who provides another seam bowling option.
The counter-argument is that the drop-in pitch at the new multi-purpose Adelaide ground could well test the stamina of both attacks and put undue pressure on Bresnan’s back.
Bresnan was less successful in the EPP’s second innings against the Queensland Second XI, falling for a duck as the tourists closed day two on 156-5.
It gave England a lead of 376 going into the final day – and offered Bresnan potentially another opportunity to impress with the ball.