Bird's numbers proving hard to ignore
Jackson Bird just keeps taking wickets. Eleven at 16.18 in his only two Tests. Nine at 24.00 for Australia A and the Australians in England this year. His first-class tally now stands at 107 victims at 19.71. Statistics don't always tell the whole truth but such figures are hard to ignore, and Bird continued to build a strong case to replace the injured James Pattinson for the Old Trafford Test with a couple of searching spells against Sussex on the second day in Hove.
More than any other member of Australia's attack, Bird made the batsmen play again and again, giving them precious few loose balls to release the pressure. He swung it away from the right-handers early and kept his lines tight, collecting 2 for 33 that should have been three-for when a catch at slip was spilled. Without question he outbowled Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner and after being overlooked for Ryan Harris at Lord's, placed himself at the front of the queue to replace Pattinson in Manchester.
"They went with Ryan and Ryan did very well," Bird said. "It was probably the right selection. I'm not bitter or anything like that. Ryan is a world-class bowler and he showed that at Lord's. But if you're in the squad you're definitely a chance and you have to prepare before each Test match as if you're going to play.
"I feel like I've been bowling pretty well the last couple of weeks. I've been bowling well in the nets and I feel like I'm pretty close to being at 100%. And I suppose if selected next week in Manchester, I feel like I'm ready to do a good job but that's still a week or so away and we've still got a day of cricket tomorrow to concentrate on.
"I suppose there is always the motivation if you're outside the squad to do well, to make the final XI, but I can't control selection. It's not something that I think about all the time. All I can control is taking wickets for Australia and I took a couple today but there's still a bit of work to do tomorrow."
Bird, 26, has been a first-class cricketer for less than two years but has a mature approach, and knows his game well. Last year's Australia A tour of England was a significant learning experience for Bird, who struggled in the unfamiliar conditions and managed only seven wickets at 44.71. His success in three appearances on this Ashes tour are a strong indication that he had accurately assessed his deficiencies on that trip.
"I was probably a bit impatient when I came here last year," Bird said. "Everyone talks about how much the Dukes ball moves around and when I got here last year it didn't really do that. I was trying to swing the ball too much and trying to get too much sideways movement. When the wickets are flat over here the English batters punish bad bowling.
"I just came over here this year knowing that I had to really be diligent on my lines and lengths, especially when the sun is out I really have to build pressure. I feel like I've done that. And when it is cloudy and the conditions suit you, not to get too carried away. You've still got to hit your lines and lengths and that's probably the main thing I've noticed."
Line and length might sound straightforward but the value of Bird's control quickly became apparent when Starc and Faulkner both sent down some wayward deliveries in Hove. His consistent, accurate bowling brought him success in his first two Tests against Sri Lanka last summer in Australia and after nearly four months on the sidelines with a back injury that forced him home from the Test tour of India in February, Bird has moved closer and closer to another opportunity.
"I didn't think I was going to be fit enough in time for the tour," he said. "It's a bonus being here on the Ashes tour and if I play well it's just a bonus. I am definitely enjoying being over here."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here