James Anderson continued his steady preparation ahead of the first Test at Brisbane by claiming a three-wicket haul on the second day of England's penultimate warm-up match against South Australia at Adelaide. His efforts, combined with another four-wicket performance from Graeme Swann, left the tourists in a strong position with one day of the game to go, leading by 161 at the close with all ten second-innings wickets in hand.
However, Saturday's play could be the last competitive outing for the front-line attack ahead of the Ashes, with the strong possibility that the Test attack will miss the final warm-up in Hobart to familiarise themselves with the conditions in Brisbane. The reserve bowlers Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad and Monty Panesar are expected to line up in that final fixture against Australia A.
Speaking after the close at Adelaide, Anderson said that he could see the benefits of such an approach, despite the fact that there are a few issues still to be resolved for the front-line bowlers. "I think I'd be fine going into that Test without playing at Hobart," he said. "It gives us a nice break going into that first Test, and we get acclimatised better to the conditions. I'm not sure Tasmania is going to be 30 odd degrees, which Brisbane could be, so that might be another bonus for us."
England seem likely to emerge from the South Australia game with at least a draw, and potentially a second consecutive win, but Anderson denied that the squad's preparations have been progressing almost too smoothly. "I've bowled some reasonably long spells in the last couple of games, so I've got some decent overs under my belt," he said. "I thought everyone hit their straps pretty well, but I wouldn't say it's been that smooth.
"As bowlers, we've gone through some bad spells," he added. "I didn't bowl great in the middle of my spells today, or as well as I would have liked. I'm sure the other bowlers have had similar feelings. Although we're getting the wickets, we're still striving to improve. We can get even better before that first Test comes round."
If the seamers aren't entirely at the top of their games, then it's hard to quibble with the form of the spinner, Swann, whose unquenchable self-confidence is almost as important as his ability to hit the right length. "It's kind of expected that he's going to bowl well," said Anderson. "He's had a great year, 18 months, and his form just continues to improve. He just seems to get better with every game."