Pattinson strikes Ashes rhythm
Should James Pattinson maintain his current head of steam, then English generosity in allowing no fewer than three separate Australian tours of the country in the 12 months leading up to the Ashes series will feel foolhardy indeed. Already considered the first choice among Australia's fast bowlers when fit, Pattinson is looming as a major protagonist in the Test series to come and appears more than ready to uncoil for the task.
On his first UK visit, for an ODI series a year ago, Pattinson was short of match practice and control. Unable to locate any customary swing, he repeatedly speared the new ball into the pads of a grateful Ian Bell, and finished his two matches with the combined figures of 0 for 80 from 16 mediocre overs delivered at only a little above Clint McKay's medium pace. It was enough to have the English asking, quite understandably: "Is that all you've got?"
A year on, against Somerset on an unhelpful pitch, Pattinson had considerably more. He ripped out seven wickets while employing a variety of methods, from new ball swing and well-aimed bouncers to fiendish reverse movement and intelligent use of the crease once the Dukes had lost their shine. All this was the result of lessons learned on that seemingly fruitless visit a year ago and honed for Australia A over the past month.
"One thing I've changed is I was bowling quite wide of the crease last year in the one-day series," Pattinson said. "I think especially to England they've got a lot of right-handers who play well off their pads, so if the ball's not swinging the angle into the pads is quite easy because they can hit through the line. A lot of the good bowlers out here get close to the stumps, and then with the seam movement it can go either way and gets the batsmen playing a bit more down the ground.
"That's one thing I've really tried to work on, using the crease more and getting close to the stumps. It's just the fact I've played more cricket now, and I've also got into a better rhythm. Last year I had a few injuries I was trying to get over and I really didn't have much cricket leading into it. This time I've had no excuse for not being prepared, because we've had a good lead-in."
Rhythm is important to Pattinson, in much the same way it was to his mentor, Craig McDermott. In Taunton, Pattinson's swiftness did not appear forced, evidence that alongside learning how to bowl effectively in England, Pattinson is also realising that his best is achieved not through pressing for extra pace but by working steadily into his rhythm while remaining relaxed - a posture the new coach Darren Lehmann is encouraging.
"It's actually funny as a fast bowler, you go out there on some days and say I'm going to bowl fast and it never actually happens like that," Pattinson said. "There are days when you try to get it in the right areas and it's just all about rhythm, and you end up bowling quicker than the days you say you're bowling 100 miles an hour.
"The emotions running around in the first Test will be a lot different. Obviously there will be some nerves but again you've got a point to prove and as a team we've definitely got that. We've had a lot of doubters over the last month leading into this and, as a group, there's a good feeling there that we've got a point to prove."
Before Nottingham, Pattinson will observe the battle to join him in the tourists' first Test bowling attack. One of the more intriguing subplots surrounds Peter Siddle, the senior bowler in the team but increasingly a player who requires plenty of overs to build up to his best. In India earlier this year, Siddle did not show anywhere close to his best until the third Test in Mohali, and this time around he is still fighting to hurl the ball down with control of line and movement one match out from the start of the serious stuff.
"I think Pete's one of those guys who knows his body quite well now, and he's quite a bit older than me and Starcy [Mitchell Starc]," Pattinson said. "So it's a long series, five Tests so he's probably the guy that when the wicket is pretty flat you'll always call to and he does a fantastic job. I don't know whether he's saving himself a bit for what's to come, because he's pretty smart with his body now.
"Sidds has been a great bowler for a number of years now and I think he's pretty happy with where he's at. He bowled well on the A tour and maybe he didn't bowl as well as he would have liked in this game, but he's a fantastic player and he'll step up for the first Test definitely."
Siddle may yet find his range, but for the moment no one is more keen for the Ashes to start than an older and wiser, but still joyfully exuberant, Pattinson. As he puts it: "If the first Test was in three days, I'd be ready to go."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here