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June 1, 2011
At 6'6", Stuart Broad cannot have been dismissed as a "midget" on too many occasions in his international career, but he could well be made to look like the runt of the litter if, as expected, England field the tallest pace trio in Test history at Lord's this week. The lanky Steven Finn is standing by to replace the injured James Anderson, but towering above all of his colleagues will be the bona fide beefcake, Chris Tremlett, a man whose sheer physical presence at Cardiff on Monday translated into the most telling spell of his career to date.
There's only a matter of inches separating the heights of England's three tallest seamers, but with legs like tree-trunks and shoulders that can appear to be the width of the pitch as he bears down on his opponents, Tremlett's physique has more in common with brick privies than the beanpoles that his team-mates can occasionally resemble. At the age of 29, and four Tests into his second coming as an international cricketer, he has at last found the self-confidence to match his natural aptitude for fast bowling.
"Naturally I'm a pretty wide-built guy and I'm a pretty intimidating character to face," Tremlett told reporters at Lord's, two days after his spell of 4 for 40 in ten overs had secured a stunning England victory by an innings and 14 runs in the first Test. "I guess I've always been a believer in letting the ball do the talking, but in the last couple of years, I've become more confident and more aggressive on the field. Being six foot whatever you always have a slight advantage bowling at any batsman."
It took a well-documented shift from the home comforts of Hampshire (where his father Tim is director of cricket) to Surrey for Tremlett to prove he was ready to resume his Test career. However, the impact he has made in his second coming has been staggering. From his five-wicket haul on the first day of the Perth Test to his Ashes-clinching dismissal of Michael Beer at Sydney, he has been in the thick of the action for England, and was at it again in Cardiff this week, when he scalped both Sri Lanka's openers in the space of eight deliveries to make possible their sensational collapse to 82 all out.
Such imposing performances had been anticipated when Tremlett made his Test debut against India four years ago. However, despite some encouraging performances - particularly at Trent Bridge where he claimed six wickets in the match including 3 for 12 to delay India's victory charge on the fifth morning - there was a certain something lacking from his armoury. "I did try to be aggressive but I guess it was forced a bit, to be honest," he recalled. "I tried to be someone I wasn't ... it was difficult to be nasty."
He's finding it rather easier now. As many of the great West Indian fast bowlers would testify, verbal aggression is not a requisite to Test success - witness the silent menace of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Curtly Ambrose, to name but three. However, in the opinion of his former captain at Hampshire, Shane Warne, Tremlett's body language betrayed him as a soft touch, a charge the man himself did not dispute.
"I won't disagree with Warney," he said. "I was a bit timid at times, but the older I've got, with more confidence and age, being more aggressive comes more naturally to me, and I guess my competitiveness has gone up, certainly since moving to Surrey. I perhaps held back a bit at Hampshire. These days, I don't think about it too much - it just happens."
Nevertheless, it was Warne who came up with the one piece of advice that Tremlett has carried into the rest of his career. "If it wasn't going well for me, for example, bowling no-balls, he said 'just find a way'. That's really stuck with me in my career. Don't look for excuses, keep going and somehow find a way to get the job done."
He did that and more in Cardiff, in a bowling performance that scattered Sri Lanka's batting in less than 25 overs all told, and left their coach, Stuart Law, ruefully contemplating the challenge of "getting forward to half-volleys that hit you in the chest." "In the first innings I tried to get it up a little bit but my execution wasn't quite as good," said Tremlett. "In the second innings I did get it right, and my rhythm felt a lot better."
Had it not been for Anderson's side strain, Tremlett might not have been unleashed with the new ball for that decisive spell, but having used the conditions to perfection, it might be a while before England strip him of the honour. "I maybe offer a bit more with the extra bounce you get with a new ball, so I do enjoy bowling with it," he said. "But I still feel I can play whatever role, new ball or change. I'm pretty flexible on that.
"The wicket at Cardiff was particularly slow, so it will be interesting to see what it's like at Lord's and whether we'll go for our shorter bowlers. But myself, Finny and Broad always have that natural advantage over those guys that are 6ft. The short ball is a great weapon - and playing against this team, they are not used to it at times. It could be a plan we'll go with, but we'll assess that on the day. It's something to think of."
The overall impression is of a cricketer who has found his niche. Jonathan Trott, England's new-crowned player of the year, admitted it took him until his century in the Boxing Day Test to truly feel as though he belonged in the side, and while Tremlett was careful not to tempt fate given his history of injuries, he too admitted he feels at ease in the set-up, and confident of his worth.
"The England management know what they're going to get - whereas maybe a couple of years ago, when I was bit more inconsistent, they didn't know which Chris Tremlett was going to turn up on the day," he said. "I guess anything can happen with injuries as a bowler, so I'm not taking anything for granted, and I have had an injury history which will always stick with me in some regards, but it's great to have had an injury-free year and hopefully that will continue."
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