England face a “hell of a hard selection” to decide which of their tall fast bowlers sneaks into the team for the first Ashes Test if all three produce their true ability over the next two weeks.
None did so, despite a gradual improvement, in the drawn tour opener against a WA Chairman’s XI in Perth. But as the tourists embarked for cooler climes in Tasmania, bowling coach David Saker made it clear he is expecting Boyd Rankin, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett to continue to up their games.
Their first opportunity in the middle, potentially, will be against Australia A in Hobart in a four-day match starting on Wednesday, although the expected return of rested seamer Stuart Broad and off-spinner Graeme Swann for that fixture means all three are unlikely to be in action together again.
One, or possibly two, will have a chance to win over the selectors again in the nets, but will have to wait until Tuesday because England, who flew into a rain and hailstorm in Hobart yesterday evening, will be having a day without practice first.
There were signs of sorts from all three of England’s 6ft 7in-plus fast bowlers that they were clicking back into gear towards the end of the match at the WACA.
But there needed to be after they recorded combined first-innings figures of two for 303, with linchpin James Anderson and part-timers Ben Stokes and Joe Root all more successful.
Assessing the various merits of the three hopefuls, Saker said: “From where I sit, it’s exciting. I’m sure it isn’t from where they sit. But it’s always good having competition for spots because then you get probably the best out of everyone. If all of them bowl at their maximum, it’s going to be a hell of a hard selection.”
He admits to having had a few frowns while the three tall men were all going at more than four-an-over first time round against a second-string batting line-up. Saker said: “I could have been happier… we could have bowled them out for 100 and 100. [But] it was a flat wicket; they batted particularly well – and in the end it was a really good work-out for our guys.”
Rankin, Tremlett and Finn shared all the wickets as their hosts closed on 168 for five declared in the second innings, and Saker added: “They got some really good spells under their belts and all of them looked better as the game went on. That is a pleasing sign.”
As well as shedding the rustiness of a month off after the end of the English season, the Perth experience was a refresher course on what is required Down Under. “We talked about it, saying sometimes in Australia you get flat wickets and it’s hard work,” Saker said.
“[Then] you’ve got to find different ways to get wickets, and the best way for us as a team is to try to build some pressure. As the game went on, I felt the guys were doing that. [The last day] was a good performance – 160 for five on that wicket.”
The inclusion of all three tall fast bowlers in England’s initial squad – at the expense, for example, of Graham Onions’ seam and swing – raised eyebrows. But Saker said: “They’ve all got their own things they’ve done really well for us. We know Steven Finn’s a good wicket-taker – he does that every time he plays for us. Boyd’s inclusion in the one-day series [at home to Australia in September] was a revelation, he was fantastic. And we don’t have to talk too much about Chris Tremlett’s 2010-11 tour.”
There is good reason to expect conditions in Tasmania will be more to the seamers’ liking, according to Saker. He said: “Traditionally, Hobart in the last three or four years has moved around a little bit more. I think our bowlers will probably enjoy that. But it will be a tough game. The Australia A team looks a really strong one.”
For three of the tourists in particular – although the No 6 batting spot is still up for grabs too – there is much to play for. “We’re three days into a long tour and haven’t really made any strong decisions yet, so they’re still going to be fighting out for that one position,”said Saker.
“I think that’s a really positive thing. You can see when they’re working in the nets, or out in games, there’s some added pressure on them which is great.
“People can jump [past] others and it just keeps changing all the time.
“We haven’t really got anything fixed in our heads at the moment and are going to let the next two games pan out, and then obviously before the first Test sit down and make a really measured judgment on that.”