Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2014

Rankin 'cramp' raises fitness concerns

Mystery surrounded the fitness of Boyd Rankin following the first day's play in Sydney after the fast bowler was twice forced from the pitch on his first day as a Test cricketer.

Rankin, who retired from Irish cricket at the end of the 2012 to concentrate on playing Test cricket for England, appeared to have suffered a hamstring strain after bowling the first delivery of his ninth over but, after leaving the field for treatment, was able to resume about 90 minutes later. He then managed just one more delivery before a recurrence of the problem forced him off again in obvious pain and clutching his left hamstring.

But after a scan showed no injury, the England camp claimed Rankin had simply been suffering from cramp and should be fit to resume bowling duties in the second innings.

Such a scenario would raise questions about Rankin's physical condition going into the game. While the weather in Sydney was warm - it reached 27 degrees at one stage in the afternoon - it was some way below the extremes experienced in Perth or in Alice Springs.

It is possible that nerves could have played a part. The 29-year-old Rankin has endured a long journey to the Test environment and knows, coming into a struggling team at the end of a series, that he may not enjoy many opportunities to prove his worth at this level. A somewhat shy, quietly spoken man from a rural background, it is also possible that tension played a part, or that the pain has some psychosomatic origin. He has been known to experience similar problems with his left foot after suffering from a stress fracture in it several years ago.

The schedule may also be relevant. While Rankin has bowled almost every day in the nets, he has not played a match since the end of November, when he delivered 14.5 overs during the game in Alice Springs. It may be that he came into this game simply lacking match fitness.

While Rankin was monitored by the England medical team ahead of play after reporting general stiffness, there was no specific concern about his hamstring and he was subsequently cleared to play.

Rankin was one of three tall fast bowlers included in the England squad for this series. But despite great expectations when the tour started, none of Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett or Rankin will look back on the trip with much joy. While Tremlett played in Brisbane, Finn has failed to break into the team and Rankin's debut has so far not gone as he would have envisaged. It would take him two years, from the moment of his last England appearance, to re-qualify for Ireland if he ever chose to do so.

Rankin has gained a reputation as one of the most hostile bowlers in county cricket over recent years. While a succession of injury problems have at times delayed his development, he has benefited from greater fitness and strength over recent years and was praised by Marcus Trescothick as being as good a fast bowler as he faced in the 2011 season.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo