The Ashes 2013-14 November 17, 2013

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2013, 11:59 GMT

    To those saying pace isn't everythign, don't forget philander has Steyn up the other end. No one likes pace, no one, and having 3 blokes 85+ is going to be very hard work for the Aussies. Phil Hughes and the crowd are going to be jumping all over the place. Can't wait.

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2013, 6:42 GMT

    Finn has a strike rate of about 48 balls per wicket in 23 tests and 90 wickets at 29. He is 24 his contenders are 29 and 32-one has never played test cricket,the other very little. Despite the past year,and mixed coaching advice about his action etc,I expect him to Be our leading bowler in a couple of years,but they won't play him at Brisbane because of Sakers obsession with economy rate bowlers,thought the game was all about taking wicket Not tying down an end.

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2013, 2:25 GMT

    I feel for Steven Finn, 8 wickets in the lead up match and about to be left out for someone that has been on the sidelines for over a year (I think Tremlett is a top shelf bowler, but has not proved he is ready yet out on the field post injury). Finn is the youngest England bowler to reach 50 wickets, yet no one seems to care. He was the leading wicket taker in the previous Ashes series down under after 2 or 3 tests series, then dropped after one game. Apparently on field performance doesn't matter, its a wonder he hasn't just hung up the England shirt and focused on being a T20 mercenary...

  • John on November 18, 2013, 20:17 GMT

    @5wombats on (November 18, 2013, 18:28 GMT) For all their so called attention to detail our management don't always learn so well do they? I mean folk talk about playing Bresnan when he was not fully fit and now we're doing the same. You mention about the India 1st test and not going in with 2 spinners. Well they did similar in UAE and with similar results and that was the very same year. Sure the series went 3-0 to Pakistan but the 2nd/3rd tests were much closer with Eng having periods of ascendancy which they never had in the 1st test. I also remember them playing a half fit Broad in the 1st SL test and that turned out to be a huge mistake. To be fair though , I supported the risk because Broad had such a good series in UAE , but here (if CT plays) they'd be risking a guy who isn't doing Jack anyway

  • Martin on November 18, 2013, 18:28 GMT

    Well, I watched Finn and Rankin at the SCG and they both looked ok. Different kinds of bowlers of course. All a bit puzzling - maybe a bit of smoke and mirrors from England management playing the journos - in order to keep Aussie guessing. If Lurch does come in then I'd be fairly astounded. It doesn't make a lot of sense picking CT unless the management know something we don't. Even so - England selected badly for the first Test in India - failing to pick Monty - who's to say that they won't pick badly again? In the end the pitch in Brisbane will dictate. I think Finn will play, even though he was flakey at times in England. Don't forget - Broad and Anderson bowled quite beautifully at the Gabba last time. They are talking about a bouncy pitch, but there is ify weather forecast with cloud 27-31 degrees. And here I am heading back to England! Boo hoo!

  • John on November 18, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    @Basingrad on (November 18, 2013, 14:43 GMT) Personally , I'm not pace obsessed and never have been , but that seems to be the reason why CT is there - to hit the deck hard etc etc. There's one small difference between Philander and Tremlett. One takes lots of wickets - the other doesn't And as I have mentioned elsewhere , if he is a stock bowler then I presume they're going to want to get a good workload out of him and if he's blowing after a few overs (as some have said) then that role doesn't look great either

  • Graham on November 18, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    Why is everyone on here so pace obsessed?! It's as if Vernon Philander didn't exist... pace is patently not everything. It's about skill. And there's a lot of talk of Rankin being more accurate than Finn. Well, he may have been a bit straighter on this tour (albeit still getting his length wrong) but he hardly has a reputation for bowling the right areas. Tremlett bowling as the stock bowler, who is hard to get forward to and keeps it tight, frees up Anderson and Broad, our best bowlers, to attack. I can easily see Finn or Rankin getting targeted and Cook being forced to use one of his spearheads to stem the flow. We do not want that. We need a replacement for Bresnan - we don't have one. But Tremlett is the one most likely to do a similar job, so he should play. Especially as none of them can bat or field, so it's purely down to their role in a balanced bowling attack.

  • Isaac on November 18, 2013, 12:59 GMT

    Some seem to be arguing that, because Tremlett hasn't taken many wickets recently, he's a bowler who can't take wickets. There's no such thing. Rather, you might say he's due a sackful...

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2013, 11:52 GMT

    if Tremlett plays then its time Flower is sacked or resigns. Having a 12 foot tall bowler bowling at 80mph wont do England any good whatsoever.

  • Rod on November 18, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    @JAH123 Onions is not the Simon Kaitich of English cricket. He is not 38, he doesn't fall out with the England captain and he is a team player. He is also the only swing bowler of Anderson's type we have. Even given Anderson's extraordinary durability it is astonishing that Tremlet was taken and Onions left behind. That decision could soon be as misguided as blooding a little known spinner at the Oval with an eye on the forthcoming Ashes series in Australia. With the greatest respect to the spinner, he wasn't going to make an impact on the Ashes in Australia. England's selectors are not immune from the odd stupid decision and if they persist with only four bowlers, they can't afford to blow a raspberry with 25% of the attack.