Bresnan absence weighs heavy
England XI 418 (Trott 84, Cook 81, Root 75, Pietersen 57) and 151 for 3 (Carberry 50) beat CA Invitational XI 304 (Carters 94, Nevill 83, Cowan 51, Finn 5-103, Broad 4-37) and 261 (Finch 59, Rankin 3-46, Finn 3-88) by seven wickets
England will miss Tim Bresnan enormously at the start of the Ashes series and his replacement will be targeted by Australia's batsmen, regardless of who is chosen by the team director, Andy Flower. So says the former Test opener Ed Cowan, who ran his eyes across the tourists' bowling options during England's final warm-up match before the Gabba Test, a seven-wicket victory over an Invitational XI at the SCG.
Chris Tremlett, Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn have all shown hints of their best in the two matches each have been granted ahead of England's arrival in Brisbane, but none have done so with the consistency demanded of a Test match bowler, particularly as one of only four options for the touring captain Alastair Cook. A sandy outfield offered some mitigating circumstances in Sydney, but Rankin and Finn still lost plenty by comparison with a far more precise Stuart Broad.
While Cowan reckoned England appeared largely ready for Brisbane, he was adamant that Bresnan's absence will be keenly felt until he can return to full fitness, much as it was during Shane Watson's domineering 176 in the final Test of the previous series at The Oval. "The only real question mark is who's going to fill that third seamer role," Cowan said. "The top order looks pretty settled, they all look in pretty good touch, but certainly I think that third bowler until Tim Bresnan comes back will probably be the one issue that keeps popping up.
"I thought Boyd bowled beautifully with the old ball yesterday, that spell screamed Test bowler, but that was the only one in the game that really lived up to what they're looking for from him. But I'm sure he'll be a very, very different proposition at the Gabba. He bowls a heavy ball, quick enough, but if you continually get too short at the Gabba you'll get murdered. [Rankin and Finn] were probably too short all game.
"I just think Bresnan's a massive player for them. Unsung hero, bowls a huge amount of overs, never really gets hit out of the attack, takes big wickets, and as we saw during the last Ashes series scores some really important runs. That's a huge out and I think Australia will look to exploit that, the third seamer."
The hosts' chances of setting a target of note for Cook's team were scotched by the loss of Peter Nevill and Ryan Carters within two runs of each other on the final morning. From there England were always likely to be pursuing something in the region of 150, enough to provide an afternoon's opportunity to groove the batting further but not the volume of runs required for the legspinner James Muirhead and the rest to have a realistic hope of forcing their own victory.
Nonetheless, Muirhead offered another tantalising glimpse of his considerable spin bowling talents, bowling Cook with sharp turn out of the rough as England's captain tried to cut, then confusing Michael Carberry over a period of time before ending his innings with a skied pull shot and a catch at midwicket. Jonathan Trott should also have fallen to Muirhead's often prodigious leg breaks, advancing down the wicket and edging, only for slip to put the catch down.
At the other end Kevin Pietersen played a brief and skittish innings, eventually bowled by a Chris Tremain delivery that deserved greater respect than the dismissive whip to leg the batsman chose to offer. Trott and Ian Bell cantered home under the SCG floodlights, though on a pitch now bearing very little resemblance to the one they can expect to greet them at the Gabba.
"It was a bit of a heyday SCG wicket, one of the best I've played on in Australia for a long time," Cowan said. "Something for the fast bowlers early, good to bat on, a bit of reverse swing and then we saw today if that was a Test wicket, there would've been significant turn late day four and day five, which is exactly what you want.
"It was great to see him [Muirhead] in the game. We saw that his best deliveries are well and truly good enough to get world-class players out. The next step is how many balls he can bowl in the right place, but it was a good guide for the future."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here