Three-way race hots up to offer cover for Bresnan
Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn or Boyd Rankin will probably have to bowl especially well to keep Bresnan out of the side once – as England hope – he recovers from his back injury in time for the second Test in Adelaide.
Bowling coach David Saker conceded on Saturday that as yet none of England’s tall trio of fast bowlers, from whom one will be picked to support James Anderson and Stuart Broad at the Gabba this week, has completely measured up to expectations in the course of the tourists’ three warm-up matches.
Finn has the most wickets – including eight in the victory over an Australian Invitational XI in Sydney – but has been easily the most expensive, conceding more than 360 runs in two matches.
Tremlett is the likely leading candidate, but has yet to demonstrate at the age of 32 and after a succession of injuries that he is still the same bowler who gave England their victory push down under three years ago.
Ulsterman Rankin is untried at Test level, but offers alarming bounce if he gets it right from his giant frame.
The stalking horse, however – not for Brisbane, but beyond – is the reliable Bresnan, whose superior batting is an extra bonus and was a telling factor in England’s series-clinching victory at Durham against Australia last summer.
He subsequently succumbed to a stress fracture in his lower back and travelled with England here as an unofficial 18th member of the squad but, Saker has confirmed, is close to a return.
Before then, England must make their choice of those available.
Asked if any had bowled as well as he would have liked so far, Saker said: “Probably not, no.”
He nonetheless retains faith that they can all rise to the occasion if picked.
“I know that the guys that we’ve got in this group are good enough – and we’re prepared, and we’re ready for this challenge.
“I’m confident on Thursday, whoever we go with, will be ready.”
Bresnan will take a little longer, but not much – and England have pencilled in his comeback in the two-day match against a CA Chairman’s XI in Alice Springs on November 29-30.
“He’s going along really well, so we really hope he’s ready for the second Test,” Saker said.
“We think he will be. That’s in the medical department’s hands –but he’s making some really good progress.
“He’s bowling at 100 per cent in the nets now. We’ve just got to get some overs into him so we’re confident that he can get through five days.
“He’ll most likely play in that Alice Springs game.”
Bresnan does not always grab the headlines, but England know his worth.
“He’s a reliable cricketer, a fantastic cricketer for us,” Saker said.
“Whether it weakens our team (to be without him), it’s debatable – but he’s a very dependable player with the bat and the ball.
“He does a great job for us, and he’s very understated.
“So it’s always a shame that he’s not available for selection. But looking down the line, he’s going to be available and again add pressure to positions.”
Of those who could play in Brisbane instead of the Yorkshireman, it may be Tremlett is at the head of the queue – having impressed in practice while Finn and Rankin were in the middle at the SCG.
“It’s not usual you can gain that much confidence in nets,” said Saker. But the last week I’ve seen a big change for Chris Tremlett, so that was a real pleasing thing for us.”
Finn is a different case.
England must assess, and probably already have, whether his strike rate is an adequate Test match trade-off for the runs he has been conceding during the warm-up games played in recent weeks.
“Again, he got wickets – which he is very good at,” added Saker.
“He bowls balls that get people out.
“He’s still a work in progress. He’s come back from some changes in his action, which he’s still trying to work through.
“Getting eight wickets in the game was a good achievement for him.
“But he still needs more work, no doubt about that.”
Former Ashes hero Harmison backs Tremlett for Brisbane
Former England paceman Steve Harmison sees Chris Tremlett as the favourite to complete their attack for the first Ashes Test – but feels it could be a late decision based on a “gut feeling”.
One of Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin will be chosen to complement James Anderson, Stuart Broad and spinner Graeme Swann in a four-man attack in Brisbane.
Bowling coach David Saker appeared to hint that Tremlett was in pole position after he made “a big change” in net practice while Finn remains “a work in progress”.
And Harmison said: “It could be on a gut feeling. Alastair Cook and Andy Flower might just give them right up until Monday after nets and think ‘this is the one that’s bowling the best, we’re going to go with him’. I think all three of them bring the same thing to party, they’re relatively the same pace and all bounce the ball.
“Tremlett gives them more control than Finn and I think there are still questions on Boyd’s durability – can he get through a full five days and then come back again? I think Chris Tremlett is probably just a safer option than Steven Finn for the first Test.”