Bird charts Ashes bowling blueprint
Typically miserly on his return to action for Australia A following the back injury that curtailed his India tour, Jackson Bird has outlined the tourists' Ashes bowling blueprint to place England under the kind of sustained pressure so desired by their coach Mickey Arthur.
Should Australia be seeking a purveyor of sustained tight bowling with subtle swing and bounce from a decent height, then Bird is a non-negotiable selection for the first match of the series at Trent Bridge, having shown in two Tests so far that he has the rare capacity to land the ball more or less where he wants to. He hinted at this again on day one in Bristol, nearly pinning Michael Klinger lbw twice in the first over of the innings and going to stumps with 0 for 29 from 10 overs.
As part of Australia's long-term planning for this northern summer, Bird was a tourist to these parts with Australia A in 2012 also, and learned valuable lessons about bowling in England. Chief among these is that any paceman who walks onto the ground with delusions of grandiose swing and bowling the perfect ball will soon find himself nursing expensive figures while patrolling the boundary - consistency is everything.
"You've got to be pretty strict on your lines and length," Bird said. "The wickets are a little bit slower so anything too full or short or anything with width just gets put away so you've got to be really diligent with your lines and length and not give away too much. I probably didn't bowl as well as I would have liked last year [in England].
"When I first came over here I was more worried about the movement and trying to swing the ball and trying to get that sideways movement as well, so when I reverted to trying to just hit my line and length, if I put the ball in the right area I tend to swing the ball anyway. So I learnt that pretty quickly and by the end of the tour I was able to do that."
Bird was perhaps the most valuable find of the past Australian summer, the delay in his selection when he might have been chosen for the pivotal Perth Test against South Africa immediately looking foolish as he moved the ball appreciably against Sri Lanka while scooping 11 wickets at 16.18 on the Boxing Day/New Year swing.
He was likely to figure in the India Tests on less forgiving surfaces before a back stress fracture was diagnosed, forcing him home. The early return to Australia may have cost Bird a Cricket Australia contract, but he bore no grudge about the fate that befell him, reasoning it allowed him time to freshen up for a tour far more amenable to his modus operandi.
"I hadn't had an injury in about six years before that so to get it during a Test series was pretty disappointing but it probably happened at a good time," Bird said. "I got the three months off to get myself fit and strong, get rid of my back injury and also a few other niggles. If it had happened at the end of the tour I probably would have missed out on the Ashes as well so looking at it that way it probably was good timing."
Like Ed Cowan, George Bailey, James Faulkner and numerous others in the Australian set-up, Bird has benefited greatly from a strong team and culture in Tasmania, having moved south from New South Wales in search of improved fitness, focus and performance. He said the Tigers had imbued him with plenty of belief, something he was now seeing among other members of the Australian Test bowling attack after their work together so far in England.
"When I first got down to Tassie I basically wanted to get myself into a position to play first-class cricket - I tried to get as fit as I could," Bird said. "Then when I got my chance I definitely had the full support of [now retired coach] Tim Coyle, the coaching staff, George and all the players as well. It puts your mind at ease when you're running in knowing that everyone's behind you. Tim was a great coach and we're sad to see him go, but he definitely made me feel very welcome."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here