England left with much to ponder
Western Australia Chairman's XI 5 for 451 dec (Lynn 104, Towers 77, Harris 69) and 5 for 168 (Marsh 62, Lynn 61*) drew with England XI 391 (Bell 115, Trott 113*)
England travel to Hobart with questions about the composition of their side for the first Test still largely unanswered after completing a none-too-convincing draw in their opening tour match against a Western Australia XI which could draw much more pride from their performance.
Boyd Rankin acquitted himself more ably than his fellow contenders for a fast-bowling place, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett, but two wickets in WA's second innings did not represent an irresistible case for selection. And Jonny Bairstow, omitted at the WACA, benefitted from his inactivity as two options for his spot at No. 6, Gary Ballance and Ben Stokes, both fell cheaply in an England collapse on the final day.
Ian Bell, England's standout batsmen in the Ashes series in England earlier this year, added 38 in 28 balls to his overnight score of 77 from 28 balls before he retired for 115. His gesture allowed the likes of Ballance and Stokes their first hit of the tour, but it also exposed them to the second new ball, which was only one over old, and England lost seven wickets for 61 in the next 20.5 overs, with Matt Prior, deputising for Alastair Cook as captain, another batsman to fail.
England were dismissed for 391 runs, 60 runs behind, but they bowled more respectably second time around, with WA declaring its second innings closed at 5 for 168 to bring an early end to the third and final day.
Ballance made a second-ball nought on his one-day debut against Ireland last August. On his senior debut for England in first-class cricket, he fared even worse, edging his first ball, from Ryan Duffield, to the wicketkeeper.
Stokes lasted 10 balls, and managed a solitary boundary, before he fell in a similar fashion, off the bowling of the Glamorgan allrounder Jim Allenby, who took the opportunity to finish with four wickets as England's lower order crumbled.
The failure of Ballance and Stokes opens the door for opener Michael Carberry to leapfrog them into the side for the first Test in Brisbane starting on November 21. Carberry, 33, was only selected because Alastair Cook was suffering from a sore back, but he impressed with 78. England may consider bringing him into the side at Gabba and relegating Joe Root to the No. 6 spot.
But Carberry may struggle to get another chance to bat before the Brisbane Test, with Cook and Kevin Pietersen expected to play in the Hobart game against Australia A starting on Wednesday. Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann should also join the bowling attack for that game. England have to start taking decisions now.
Wicketkeeper Matt Prior is another of England's batsman struggling to find consistently good form. He was dismissed just four balls after Ballance departed, also caught behind off the bowling of Duffield, for 4. Prior made just 133 runs at an average of 19 against Australia in England earlier this year and has not posted a half-century in 13 Test innings.
Jonathan Trott, whose top score in the last Ashes series was 59, spent some valuable time in the middle. He was unbeaten at the end of the England innings on 113 from 236 deliveries.
Allenby was the pick of the WA bowlers, with figures of 4 for 58 from 22.5 overs after finding the edge against both James Anderson and Rankin late in the innings.
While Rankin failed to trouble the scorers with the bat, he did find a good line and length at the start of WA's second innings. He will go in to Wednesday's game slightly in front of Chris Tremlett and Finn for a final Test bowling spot. He made the most of the new ball, dismissing both openers cheaply. He had Luke Towers caught by Anderson at third slip for just one and Marcus Harris lbw for 22.
Rankin did Finn no favours in his first over of the innings though, dropping a catch, albeit a difficult chance, provided to him by Chris Lynn at mid-on. Lynn was on 12 at the time and went on to score an unbeaten 61, following his impressive 104 in the first innings.
Finn bounced back with two wickets late in the day, trapping Mitch Marsh lbw for 62 and then having Tom Triffitt caught behind without scoring four balls later. He finished with the figures of 2 for 53, following his first innings return of 1 for 123 from 23 overs. Tremlett also claimed a late wicket, his first of the game, just before the close.
England will be relieved to move on to two four-day matches against more recognised opposition, with their likely Test XI largely in place. After facing Australia A in Hobart, they will play a final warm up in Sydney against a New South Wales XI which due to a fixture clash with Shield cricket will be bolstered by several guest players on the instructions of Cricket Australia.