The importance of Tremlett's scare factor
Tim Bresnan's injury is a big problem for England in only one respect: they lose their mascot. Every Test in which Bresnan has played has been an England victory, so whatever talismanic luck he brings will be gone. It's also fair to say that none of his potential replacements offers as much with the bat, but England bat pretty deep even without him.
From the two warm-up games – and how pleasant it is to see England carrying on with playing properly competitive games of cricket in the lead-up, Duncan Fletcher's 14-a-side two-day net affairs being properly consigned to the dustbin – we know that Steven Finn is the fastest, Chris Tremlett the awkward-bounciest, Graham Onions the swingingest and Monty Panesar the spinningest of the candidates and that they are all in pretty good nick. So it's going to be down to the captain and coach to decide what they want, and that will presumably depend a bit on what the pitch looks like.
In the absence of detailed acquaintance with the surface, I shall plump for Tremlett. I am very well aware that there are strong cases for Finn and Panesar, but I think Onions is a couple of yards behind them in the queue.
As a bowler, Tremlett is the most likely of the England bowlers to produce the nasty bouncer – the one that rears up from a fairly full length into the ribcage. And the best thing about it is that he doesn't do it all that often: somewhat unusually for a very tall bowler, he spends most of his time threatening the stumps rather than send the ball whistling spectacularly but generally harmlessly past the batsman's head. He knows the value of making the batsman play.
However, I think his greatest quality now is his scariness.
It was not always thus. When he first played for England against India in 2007, it wasn't that he didn't bowl decently but that he didn't look as though he believed he ought to be there. He seemed like the fellow who was surprised to get an invitation to an exclusive party and then spends his time doing his best to look inconspicuous. There was nothing about him which made a batsman quake.
The most obvious change in him when he returned to the colours on last winter's Ashes tour was that he had acquired an aura of genuine menace. There is nothing shy about this big, quiet man: he is obviously quite composed, a serious man going about serious business. As he patrols his part of the field, he has the air of someone for whom crowds instinctively part because it does not look at all wise to get in his way. Tremlett does not have Curtly Ambrose's glare, but there is much else which is very similar in his demeanour.
I sometimes thought he was an escapee from a mafia movie, in which he would be accompanying Don Strosso as the godfather politely informed someone that it would be appreciated if they would settle their debt otherwise Tremmo here would be paying them a visit, an outcome which would be most regrettable. [Cut to close-up on face of debtor as all the colour drains out.]
This is not a case of “working on his body language”, as the saying goes. Body language is simply a physical expression of a mental state: of course one can act for a time, but no-one can keep up an act for a whole day in the field. His demeanour is simply evidence that he is now completely comfortable with being a top-class pace bowler.
If he gets the nod, he will no doubt be determined to do well enough to make himself the incumbent who won't be dislodged. I'm betting that he can do it.