Finn, Tremlett, Rankin compete for final bowling spot
England's jetlagged batsmen and a handful of second-tier West Australians will spend the next week hopping around in the WACA ground nets and the middle after the touring captain Alastair Cook foreshadowed a willing battle between Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin for his side's final Ashes bowling spot.
With Tim Bresnan in the latter stages of his recovery from a back injury that is unlikely to allow him to be considered for the first Test, Finn, Tremlett and the former Irishman Rankin will have the bounciest practice and playing surfaces in the country on which to state their cases. Each must try to sway Cook, the coach Andy Flower and bowling mentor David Saker into a decision on who will share pace duties with James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Following England's first training session of the trip, Cook said his side's plans to make the most of the bounce on offer in Australia had been conveyed clearly enough by the selection of the tour party, but it was now up to the bowlers chosen to press their cases. Apart from their height in common, Finn, Tremlett and Rankin all have slightly differing stories and attributes: temperament and stamina will be under scrutiny in addition to bowling skill.
"It's quite clear to see that Jimmy and Broady have done enough over their fantastic careers to be first-choice bowlers," Cook said in Perth. "We tend to play three quicks and a spinner, so there is one space up for grabs. It's pretty clear for everyone to know that and people have to stick their hand up for selection. If they do really well in these couple of warm-up games in the opportunities they get they're going to put their name ahead."
Finn and Tremlett were each part of England's triumphant 2010-11 tour, part of a pace attack that improved with every Test match despite Anderson being the only constant throughout the series. Having begun the tour as the third seamer, Finn was dropped after Perth as his wickets were deemed to have come at too great a cost. Tremlett, in contrast, graduated from a reserve berth to part of the quick-bowling triumvirate in mid-series, and by its end was arguably England's most threatening bowler.
Rankin is the lesser known entity of the three, having switched allegiance from Ireland to England in order to pursue Test ambitions. He has turned plenty of heads on limited-overs duty for his adopted country, but must now show he has the ability to sustain his hostility and accuracy over the longer spells Cook will demand of him in the Tests.
"We think pace and bounce will be quite crucial on Australian wickets. I think that's quite common. Very, very skillful shorter bowlers can have success but, in general, pace and bounce is quite key," Cook said. "[Rankin] gives us that option, he obviously hasn't played a Test match or been around the Test match environment before, so interesting to see how he goes, but I think the next four days might be quite interesting with him, Finny and Broady all bowling."
England's preparation will closely mirror that of three summers ago, the one change being that their tour matches against WA and New South Wales teams will be head-to-head with rounds of the Sheffield Shield, thus weakening their opposition. Cook said his men would take what they could from the success of the previous trip without resorting to facsimile.
"It's very similar to what we did last time in 2010," he said. "That should give you enough time in the middle and some miles in your legs for the bowlers. We've got a long build-up for it and I think you need that for such an important tour.
"I think we'd be foolish not to look back on what we did on that tour and what we did very well. But you've got to remember this is a different side now. Things have evolved. We've got different players, different personnel as well. We can look at the right things we did there and try to replicate them but we can't just copy it outright, because our side is different."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here