England 'clear' on third seamer - Saker
England's bowling coach, David Saker, has suggested that the management have made up their minds over the troublesome third seamer slot for the first Ashes Test. In the absence of Tim Bresnan, who is continuing to recover from a back stress fracture, it is set to come down to a straight choice between Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin to support James Anderson and Stuart Broad in Brisbane.
Finn has not been selected in Tests since a disappointing display against Australia at Trent Bridge in the summer and Tremlett last played for England in the UAE at the start of 2012. Tremlett was part of the squad for the final match of the previous Ashes but England chose to alter the balance of the side and play Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan instead. Rankin, meanwhile, could be in line for a Test debut a year after retiring from Ireland duty to pursue an England career.
Each of the bowlers has played two matches so far on tour, Finn leading the way in terms of wickets (11) but with the highest economy. Rankin has taken seven wickets, Tremlett just one but the latter was seen working with Anderson in the SCG nets, rather than playing the final warm-up game, leading some to tip him for a recall. Saker was not revealing in which direction his cap is set, however.
"I think we're pretty clear in our minds where we're going to go," he said. "There's a few more days to go. I'm not going to announce who's going to play. But we're confident where we are ... we're pretty clear who we're going to pick, and we'll go from there. There probably is a chance that it would be up for grabs, but we're pretty clear. If someone wants to jump the queue, they've got a couple of days to do that.
"I know that the guys that we've got in this group are good enough - and we're prepared, and we're ready for this challenge. I'm confident on Thursday, whoever we go with will be ready."
While Saker conceded that the three contenders had "probably not" bowled as well as he would have liked in the warm-up games, he rejected the idea that whoever comes in could be singled out by Australia's batsmen as the weak link of the attack. "Teams might target certain players on our team, but we pride ourselves as a group to do the job really well," he said. "I know as a bowling group we'll put pressure on them.
"If they do want to come after our bowlers, good luck to them - if they're good enough to do that. But if they're doing that, there's a good chance we'll get some chances."
Bresnan is expected to come back into contention as the tour goes on. He flew out with the squad and England hope to play him in the two-day match against a Cricket Australia Chairman's XI in Alice Springs after the Gabba Test; he could also be involved in a game for the England Performance Programme, who have joined the senior players in Brisbane. Saker said that the Yorkshire quick could be available to play in Adelaide.
"He's going along really well, so we really hope he's ready for the second Test," Saker said. "We think he will be. That's in the medical department's hands - but he's making some really good progress.
"He's bowling at 100 percent in the nets now. We've just got to get some overs into him so we're confident that he can get through five days. He'll most likely play in that Alice Springs game."
Bresnan took ten wickets at 29.60 in three appearances during the Ashes in England, in particular troubling Shane Watson, while he claimed 11 in two Tests during the last tour Down Under. He was tagged as England's lucky mascot after being involved in victories in each of his first 13 Tests and, although that record has dipped a little, his control and all-round utility remain attractive qualities to Saker and Andy Flower.
"He's a reliable cricketer, a fantastic cricketer for us,'' Saker said. "Whether it weakens our team [to be without him], it's debatable - but he's a very dependable player with the bat and the ball.
"He does a great job for us, and he's very understated. So it's always a shame that he's not available for selection. But looking down the line, he's going to be available and again add pressure to positions."
Such is the mystery surrounding the third man of England's pace attack that it wouldn't be a surprise to spot Harry Lime lurking in a darkened corner of the Gabba shortly before the start of the first Test. While David Saker would not name names after being put up to speak to the press in Brisbane, reports suggest that it was all he could do to stop himself doodling pictures of Chris Tremlett's 6ft 7in frame on the nearest notepad.
That may come as a surprise, given that Tremlett has taken one wicket at a cost of 146 runs in his two warm-up games. But Tremlett is a famous Saker hunch, taken on the previous tour to Australia after a respectable, but not spectacular, season in Division Two for Surrey and having not played a Test in three years. Stuart Broad's injury created an opening and he took 17 wickets in three games, suggesting he would finally fulfil his hulking potential at international level.
Familiar injury problems have struck since then and his last England appearance was in Dubai at the start of 2012. At 32, he is still one wicket shy of 50 in Tests; Steven Finn, the youngest England bowler to the mark, did so aged 22. But Finn's wickets, quick as they come, are not so cheap and Saker said "he still needs more work" after taking 8 for 191 in the final tour match in Sydney. Boyd Rankin, meanwhile, seems a little way off the Test side, despite impressing in a variety of commissions since switching his allegiance from Ireland.
So, it may come down to Saker's gut again. "In the last week I've seen a big change in Chris Tremlett, so that was a really pleasing thing for us," he said of their net sessions in Sydney. A confidence player, once described as "soft" by Shane Warne, Tremlett will probably know by now if he is the chosen man. England are making the right noises but a significant test awaits. The lamb became a lion three years ago but Australia will have slaughter on their minds at the Gabbatoir come Thursday. Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here