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August 10, 2010
Chris Tremlett prepared for his 100th first-class match knowing that, after playing the last of his three Tests three years ago, he was still a long way from an international recall. Of all of England's well-stocked reserves, the fast-bowling ranks are the most crowded but, after a long period of injuries, near-misses on one-day selection and most recently a change of county from Hampshire to Surrey, Tremlett says he has emerged a stronger bowler and stronger character, ready to rejoin the fold at the highest level.
His performances this season, capped by bursting through Sussex's top order with three wickets in his first two overs on Monday, suggest he might just be right. After missing the start to the season he has led Surrey's attack, sending down almost 240 overs to pick up 29 wickets at 21.13 in the Championship and the England management is known to have taken note.
"I'm feeling very strong right now, the body is feeling good and I'm probably the fittest I've ever been," he told Cricinfo. "I think the injury days are behind me, the change of club has brought a change of luck. I've bowled a lot of overs but I feel very fresh whereas in previous years by this time it's been a battle to get through and I've picked up injuries, so hopefully I can keep bowling lots of overs, keep taking wickets and keep winning games for Surrey."
A hulking figure at 6'7" with a strong and tall action, Tremlett ticks every box a fast bowler should. During his three Tests in 2007 he roughed up the vaunted Indian line-up, and showed enough to suggest he could have been a fixture in an England side that was desperately looking to move on from the 2005 generation. Back then he was keeping Stuart Broad out of the team but, three years on, it's Broad who's established England's transformation and Tremlett has also watched Steven Finn, whose attributes so closely mirror his own, leapfrog him into the national side. Tremlett, however, sees no reason why he can't line up alongside those two.
"I can see a role for myself in the England side. I am similar in a way to Finny and Broady in terms of height and pace and I can bat a bit as well. If [England] want another bowler with pace and bounce that's what I offer and I'm bowling well. I've stayed fit and done what I've been asked to in the past so I have no doubt I could go and perform."
The comparison with Broad is telling. While their physiques may match, their psyches could not seem further apart. Throughout Broad's career he has walked a fine line between healthy aggression and outright petulance - a line he so clumsily crossed at Edgbaston - while Tremlett, on the other hand, has been held back by an apparent lack of fire. A hangdog expression and an infuriating reluctance to impose himself on the opposition has left an impression that he does not have the heart for a fight. It's a charge he rejects entirely and puts more down to lazy stereotyping than any underlying truth.
"Some of the things that people have said about me in the past have been complete rubbish. I don't think the people who made these criticisms actually know me at all - they have no idea about my personality and what drives me," he said. "If I didn't have the heart or the drive I wouldn't have moved to Surrey, I wouldn't have fought back from injury after injury, and I wouldn't be in the position I am now - bowling well and taking wickets."
Despite his annoyance with the 'soft touch' label, he acknowledges he has come across diffident at times and has spoken in the past of the need to add some devil to his on-field persona. Now 28, he feels more comfortable in himself and says that an aggression has come out of experience and confidence in his bowling.
"I guess when I was younger I was a bit timid but, with age, now naturally I am more aggressive. I'm not working on my body language any more, the older I've got the more experienced I've got, and the more confident I've become. I'm not over the top or anything, I don't think I ever will be, it's not who I am and it's not the type of bowler I am. But I let batsmen know I'm there, let them know I'm bowling well and let the ball do the rest.
"I'm definitely a better bowler now to where I was when I last played for England. The wicket at The Oval has been very flat and it's forced me into becoming a better bowler - I've had to think a lot about how I'm bowling and that experience has helped me be more naturally aggressive."
It is an important point. Long gone are the days when fast bowlers queued up at The Oval expecting the kind of pace and carry that propelled Devon Malcolm to his nine-wicket destruction of South Africa 16 years ago. Much like its Australian equivalent at Perth, the pitch is a much more soporific affair now as England may well find out next week. The lingering suspicion, all the more apparent after Pakistan's third-day resistance at Edgbaston, is that the gloss on England's attack fades when the sun shines. Finding ways to succeed in unfavourable conditions is a pressing concern for the Ashes in particular and Tremlett feels his Oval experience gives him the ingredients to succeed.
"The Oval pitches have been very slow and low this year. Luckily for me my body is feeling good so I've bowled quicker this year but I've had to learn to bowl better areas. I now back myself to go at under three an over and take wickets on flat decks. My action is more solid so I think I've got what it takes for Australia - I've played Test cricket, I'm a good bowler and can offer pace and bounce on any track."
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