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The first Test in the Investec Ashes can be interpreted differently. It is how England and Australia respond at Lord's that counts
July 17, 2013
Just as one man can look at an ink blot test and see a puppy and another sees a knife-wielding maniac, so events of the last few days can be interpreted differently.
The furore surrounding Mickey's Arthur's departure could divide the Australian dressing room or unite it. Australia's reliance upon their tenth-wicket partnership in the first Test could be shown to demonstrate the depth of their batting or the fragility of their top order. And James Anderson's display at Trent Bridge could be used to underline his excellence or illustrate England's reliance upon him.
As so often, it is not events that define the future, it is the reaction to them. Much of the peripheral detail amounts to little.
It is true that the last few days have gone well for England. Despite a major fright, they are one up in the series, they are at full strength and they have had the opportunity to rest and recover in relative peace as the storm rages around the Australia squad. If a spin doctor had organised the leaking of the Arthur story, they could not have timed it better from an England perspective.
Generally, however, these issues are credited with more importance than they deserve. While a healthy dressing room environment is an important factor, it does not guarantee anything. A cosy environment can be just as damaging and the issues of recent days will count for very little once the Test starts.
The England dressing room has been portrayed as the more settled of late, but there is nothing cosy about it. Just ask Nick Compton.
Now Steven Finn has jeopardised his position and opened the door for a return to either Tim Bresnan or Graham Onions. While Finn, who has claimed 29 wickets in five Tests at an average of 20.65 on his home ground, has a far better chance of fighting his way back into the side than Compton if he is omitted, to be dropped in successive Ashes series would hurt and represent a significant setback in his career.
Bresnan and Onions offer slightly different options, but both are seen as steadier than Finn. While Finn is capable of brutish pace and bounce, he continues to concede more runs per-over than England can be comfortable with - 4.68 at Trent Bridge - and, in that game at least, could not be trusted to maintain the pressure built by his colleagues.
Even then, however, he produced a couple of fine spells and came within an ace of a hat-trick in the first innings. At his best, he remains the most attractive of England's three options and he knows the conditions at Lord's, with its slope and propensity to behave more according to the sky above than the wicket below, than either of them. Were he a batsman, fresh from one poor game, there would surely be little debate about his position. But as part of a three-man seam attack, England fear his unpredictability.
Onions would not let England down. While he has lost some of his pace since the back injury that almost ended his career, he remains a nagging seamer who makes the batsman play more often than any bowler in England and can generally be relied upon to maintain pressure and control.
If conditions help him, and the Lord's pitch may start with a covering of grass but is unlikely to provide much assistance to seamers, he can still prove dangerous. He generated just a little reverse swing in the warm-up game at Chelmsford and was rated by the Essex batsmen as the most challenging of England's seamers in that game.
Bresnan may be living off reputation. Before his elbow injury - an elbow injury that has necessitated two operations - he could gain seam and swing, both reverse and conventional, at a sharp pace. The skills remain but, despite protestations to the contrary, Bresnan appears to have lost the nip that rendered him such a dangerous bowler.
While he does add depth with the bat, it is worth noting that he has never scored more than 20 in a total where England have scored fewer than 400. In short, his batting has rarely been as valuable as it might appear at first glance.
Before the first operation, in December 2011, Bresnan had a Test batting average of 45.42 and a Test bowling average of 23.60. Since then he has a Test batting average of 17.14 and a Test bowling average of 55.43.
England captain, Alastair Cook, played his cards close to his chest in his pre-match media conference. While one of those present fainted, it was surely more due to the heat than excitement. Cook did provide just a little hint that England could make a change, though.
"You try to be as loyal as you can to your players who won a Test match," Cook said. "You want to give people the feeling of confidence in the side that they're going to get a good run. But on the other hand, as always, you pick a side which you think is going to win the game. Sometimes you do have to make tough decisions.
"I would love to say that I have the backing and support of the guys who play under me but sometimes you do have to decisions that are tough for the good of the side.
"We all know that to win a Test match you have to take 20 wickets but there are different ways of going about that. On a hard bouncy wicket you want a lot more pace and on a different wicket you want control. Sometimes control can build pressure to create wickets."
There is some irritation in the England camp at the suggestion that they are reliant upon James Anderson. Cook dismissed such talk as "a bit disrespectful to the three other guys that are bowling" and pointed out that Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad and Finn all have impressive records.
"They are world-class bowlers as well in their own right," Cook said. "Clearly Jimmy is the leader of the attack at the moment, but Broady is almost coming up to 200 Test wickets [he has 198], Swanny has got 240  Test wickets and Finny was the quickest Englishman to 50 wickets in terms of Tests. That shows the strength in our squad. It was Jimmy's game the other day but the last time at Lord's, Broad took seven wickets in the first innings."
Cook also provided some encouragement to Chris Tremlett. Tremlett has trained with the England squad over the last couple of days and, while he has not been added to the squad and will not play in this Test, he has impressed in the nets - he bowled Jonathan Trott - and clearly remains in the selectors' thoughts for later in the summer or the tour to Australia.
"We haven't seen Chris too much because of injury so it's great he's around the squad," Cook said. "In England everyone is playing for their counties and it's normally just the 11 or 12 who play, so getting other people in as well who have given outstanding service, like Monty Panesar, is great as they can come back in and have a bowl and hopefully feel part of it."
England know they were below their best at Trent Bridge. With Broad hardly bowling in the first innings, Swann enduring a rare poor game and the batsmen taking a while to appreciate the character of the wicket, Cook expects an improved showing this week.
"It wasn't the perfect Test match by any stretch of the imagination," he admitted, "but what we did was manage to win which is a good sign.
"You're always striving to improve as a side. One of Andy Flower's big things as a coach is that if you stand still you'll be caught up. If you're comfortable with where you have got you can come unstuck. We're always trying to get higher standards."
There has only been one draw in the last 10 Tests at Lord's so, with the weather remaining generally fine - some rain is a possibility overnight - a result can be expected. Though the pitch has a covering of grass, it remains a 'bat first' wicket and is expected to provide some assistance to the spinners. Swann, who has taken 31 wickets at an average of 27.12 at the ground, gained sharp turn in the Test here against New Zealand but was hardly required to bowl, such was the success of the seamers.
Defeat would all but end Australia's hopes of fighting their way back in the series but England will recall they went one down themselves both in India and in the 2005 Ashes series before prevailing. There is no room for complacency.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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