Top performer - Nathan Bracken November 8, 2006

Swinging into contention

Damien Martyn hardly ever looks ruffled. Not when arching his back leg to dissect two gullies or when sipping a freshly ordered coffee. Not even when answering his thousandth question about the 1993-94 SCG Test



Has Nathan Bracken done enough for a berth in the Aussie Test line-up? © Getty Images

The countdown has begun and the places are hotting up, but Australia's starting line-up for the first Test at Brisbane is far from a done deal. Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Brett Lee may be guaranteed their places in the Aussie bowling attack, but the coveted fourth slot is turning into a bit of a dogfight. Time, then, for an oft-underrated mongrel to start baring his teeth.

Nathan Bracken has been there or thereabouts for longer than he'd care to recall, but in Australia's march to their first Champions Trophy title, he has shown a killer instinct that many had despaired he'd ever show. "Yes, I've heard people say I lack mongrel," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "No, I'm not someone who gets into batsmen's faces - but I'll do anything to get them out."

His aggressive showing is timely to say the least. At Jaipur in the "Diwali Ashes", Bracken took 1 for 38, but it was another left-arm seamer who stole all the plaudits. Mitchell Johnson's superb double whammy to Kevin Pietersen - a sharp and surprising bouncer followed by a perfect seaming length-ball - had all the Ashes-fixated scribes in a lather about Australia's latest bowling sensation. The missing link for the recovery of the Urn?

Not if Bracken has his way, he won't be. Johnson may be four years younger and 5mph quicker, but in terms of experience he is outranked by five Tests and 36 ODIs, and was overlooked for the final against West Indies in favour of Brad Hogg. In his absence, Bracken produced his own Pietersen delivery - a superbly pitched outswinger that zipped past the potent bat of Chris Gayle and turned a West Indian run-fest into another Australian rout.

Not since the days of Bruce Reid in the late 1980s and early 1990s has Australia possessed a left-arm seamer of genuine matchwinning potential. And England remember full well how devastating he could be when on song ...

What he says
"The best bit of advice came from my wife's mother; she came out to watch me play a NSW game when I was off-contract. She said, 'You play different for NSW to what we see for Australia'. She asked why I didn't go out and play for Australia like I played for NSW. I said it's a bit different -- and she said, 'No it's not, it's still a game of cricket'. As a player you always get caught up in the emotion of it and the fact that it is playing for your country."

What they say
"Bracken was terrific. He was probably the difference in the game today. I knew he had a good chance of getting their left-handers out, and he got both Gayle and Chanderpaul. He has been a terrific one-day bowler." Ricky Ponting waxes lyrical about his matchwinner.

What you may not know
If Bracken wants a good omen for the forthcoming Ashes opener at Brisbane, he needs only to rewind by 12 months, to the opening Test of the West Indies series at the Gabba last year. Bracken's second-innings figures of 4 for 48 secured a thumping 379-run win. He's played just one Test since, but in the year 2006, he has been the world's leading one-day wicket-taker, with 46 wickets in 23 matches.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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