Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day December 16, 2010

Tremlett towers above the crowd

At one of the world's great fast-bowling venues, Chris Tremlett turned in a performance that declared he belongs

The first thing that needs to be said about Chris Tremlett is that he is huge. He's not just willowy tall like Steven Finn, or freakishly out-of-proportion like Pakistan's seven-foot seamer, Mohammad Irfan. He is properly stacked in a rugby lock-forward sense, and even when he has not been playing during this Ashes tour, he has been the most instantly recognisable cricketer in England's squad. On the outfield at the Gabba, or in the nets at Adelaide, or wandering around the foyer of Perth's Hyatt hotel, he has stood out from the crowd simply because he has towered above it.

Who better, then, to have lurking on the bench as the ultimate "impact" player? In hindsight the question seems ridiculously rhetorical. Last week, Tremlett was described by the Victoria opener Michael Hill as delivering the ball from above the roof of the MCG, no less, and with all the pre-Test chatter centring around the quickest WACA wicket for the best part of a decade, it would have been an extraordinary indictment of his apparently flaky temperament had he not been given this chance to run amok.

Under previous regimes, England might well have hedged their bets and gone for the dependable Tim Bresnan, the sort of nuts-and-bolts cricketer who could have covered for the absence of Stuart Broad with a bit of Yorkshire grit and a handy second string as a batsman. But that is not the way that the current management operate. No England touring team in living memory has successfully channelled so much confidence into so many varied areas of its squad without, as yet, allowing it to spill over into arrogance. Tremlett was trusted because he was the best candidate for the vacancy, and today he repaid that faith superbly.

"It was a big step in my career to hit my straps straightaway and contribute to an important game, so I'm very happy," said Tremlett. "There was a bit of a green tinge at the start of the day, and we made the most with the new ball, picking up those early wickets. When I woke up this morning I was very nervous, but when I got into my stride and got my wicket I felt at ease and tried to enjoy the experience. I think it's been shown that the wicket has bounce, I felt I hit the right areas on this wicket, and that I was the man to pick."

Officially, Tremlett's selection as Stuart Broad's replacement was confirmed at England's final nets session on Wednesday afternoon. To all intents and purposes, however, he has been inked in for this fixture for months. As long ago as July, in a pub in Nottingham during England's Test series against Pakistan, the England bowling coach David Saker spent an evening outlining his vision for this Ashes campaign. He had yet to see Tremlett bowl in the flesh for his new county Surrey, but his ear had been to the ground ever since the start of the season, and he was liking the vibes coming through. It didn't matter to him one jot what previous coaches and pundits had to say. He was simply adamant that Tremlett had to be on that plane.

Mind you, he's not the first England coach to regard Tremlett as a mighty prospect. In the epic summer of 2005, Duncan Fletcher watched Tremlett bounce a hat-trick delivery off Mohammad Ashraful's bails on his ODI debut against Bangladesh, and was so sure of his potential that he kept him in the dressing-room as England's 12th man for the first four Tests against Australia. But when push came to shove with the injury to Simon Jones, he baulked at the notion of pitching him in at the deep end, and opted instead to recall the teak-tough Paul Collingwood.

Then in 2007, Fletcher's successor Peter Moores marked his first summer in charge by calling up Tremlett for a debut Test series against India, and he performed with some panache to claim 13 wickets at less than 30, including three scalps in seven overs in a losing cause at Trent Bridge. But aside from an isolated one-day outing against New Zealand the following summer, that appeared to be the end of the opportunities. Too many niggles and too little ambition seemed to have fatally undermined his prospects.

A move from Hampshire was the catalyst for change. His father, Tim, was a former stalwart of the county who moved up the ladder to become Director of Cricket, and everything had simply been too cosy for his son, even when Shane Warne came in as their high-profile captain. "I tried everything to get Tremlett to be more aggressive," said Warne.

"I was nice to him and supported him. I tried to be nasty by batting him at No 11 to make him angry. But he was just a bit soft. He was a great fella but he needed to toughen up, because his body language was awful. If he has learned his lesson he could be the No. 1 bowler in the world. He is that good."

With Chris Adams welcoming him into the Surrey dressing-room with the promise that the mocking nickname of "Goober" would no longer be tolerated, Tremlett bounced back from a dismal 2009 season to claim 48 wickets at 20.18 for his new club. "When I went to Surrey I went with a fresh head," he said. "People can say what they want about my temperament - that I'm a gentle giant or whatever - but it all comes from within. If you want something bad enough, you work out what to do and try hard enough to get it. I think I figured that out over the years.

"It wasn't too hard a decision," he added. "I wanted to get away from the comforts at Hampshire and all the same people, and the thing I wanted to do was to move away from all that, to a new county, a new pitch, a new place, and straightaway I felt very welcome at Surrey. I've grown up a bit. I'm more experienced as a cricketer, I know my game more, and I'm just a better bowler than I was three years ago."

At the WACA on Thursday there was not a trace of dodgy body language. Charged with the second over of the match from the Prindiville End, and fuelled by the extra responsibility of Andrew Strauss's apparent gamble at the toss, Tremlett purred to the crease with an exquisitely uncomplicated action, and left Phil Hughes ruing the accuracy of his own pre-series assessment, that it's not the short ball that gets a batsman out, but the follow-up. A whistling bouncer, and a bail-trimming length ball, and Australia's innings was off to another dreadful start.

Inevitably it will be the follow-up performance that determines whether Tremlett has turned a corner in his career, but there's enough circumstantial evidence to suggest he's ripe for a regular berth at the age of 29. Crucially, he bowls within himself these days, letting his height and natural rhythm do the donkey work to take the strain off his previously fallible body, and though he went wicketless on a dead deck at Melbourne last week, he still conceded a mere 57 runs from 24 overs - a performance that reassured the management that he would not be a liability if the conditions were not in his favour.

In the end Broad was missed by the England attack, but only because the 21-year-old Steven Finn looked tired after a draining first half of the series, and had the circumstances been different, he might well have rested for this game. Tremlett on the other hand looked the real deal, and the three-card trick that did for the rookie Steven Smith - drawn forward, pushed back, lured forward again to find the splice - was the work of a bowler with a brain as well as brawn. The days of 'Goober' cannot be written off just yet, but at one of the world's great fast-bowling venues, Tremlett turned in a performance that declared he belongs.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.