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Will Roland-Jones be England's third man?

James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been almost ever-present for England this decade, but they have had a revolving cast of support

George Dobell
George Dobell
Toby Roland-Jones became the first England seamer since 2009 to take a five-wicket haul on debut  •  Associated Press

Toby Roland-Jones became the first England seamer since 2009 to take a five-wicket haul on debut  •  Associated Press

Few jobs in cricket are as competitive as the third seamer role in the England Test side.
While there are, in theory, four places available for the best seamers from the county game, such has been the longevity of James Anderson and Stuart Broad and the emergence of Ben Stokes, that only one place has been available for the rest. That means the likes of Chris Woakes, Steven Finn, Jake Ball and Toby Roland-Jones, to name but four of many, are effectively fighting for a single spot in the side. Tellingly, Ball has never played a Test with both Broad and Anderson in the team.
Almost a dozen men have attempted to fill the role since the start of 2010. While one or two have struggled for potency at the top level - mostly due to having been selected after a career-defining injury - most have struggled to retain the fitness required for a concerted period in the side.
Here we review the 11 men who have filled the role of the third frontline quick for England since the start of 2010:
Collective stats for England's 3rd/4th seamers, since Jan 2010 (to start of current Oval Test)
Bowler Mats Wkts Ave 5_fors
 James Anderson  70  290  25.21  15
 Stuart Broad  70  267  27.23  11
 Other seamers  74*  235  33.19  6
It looked, for a while, as if England had unearthed a special talent in Finn. While he sometimes leaked more runs than a three-man seam attack could tolerate - he was dropped mid-way during the 2010-11 Ashes for that reason - his pace and hostility were a potent weapon that earned him many wickets. Having become the youngest England player to 50 Test wickets, it looked as if he were the natural replacement for Steve Harmison. But whether it was the slight change of approach necessitated after he developed a habit of knocking off the bails in delivery stride, or whether it was the brief experiment with a shorter run-up during the 2013 tour of New Zealand, Finn has seemed to lose his way for a while and was, infamously, deemed "unselectable" towards the end of the 2013-14 Ashes tour. There have still been some fine performances - notably at Edgbaston in 2015, when he demonstrated a new-found ability to shape the ball away from the right-hander - and his long-term record remains decent, but he has not quite developed into the reliable fast bowler England once thought he may become. He remains on the fringes, though (he was put on standby for The Oval Test when Wood was ruled out through injury) and is sure to come into contention for the Ashes trip.
What he said
"Trying to improve myself hindered me for a little while. But as I became clear about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to bowl, I think I've got that determination back to come back into the England team. To be quite frank I am sick of talking about the past."
For a little while at the start of the decade, Bresnan looked the ideal third seamer in England's four-man attack. Not only did he have a good range of skills - control, both reverse and conventional swing - but he had decent pace and an ability to 'bowl dry' that the England side of the time valued so dearly. He could also bat. He rarely claimed the headlines - he has only one five-wicket haul in Test cricket - but it was no coincidence that England won the first 13 Tests in which he played. Whether it was the demands made of him in those days - days before Stokes alleviated the strain on the other seamers - or just poor fortune, he was forced into the first of three bouts of elbow surgery at the end of 2011 and never completely recaptured the same pace as before. He remained a reliable performer but his bowling average before the operation (23.60) and after (44.80) pretty much tells the story.
What he said
"I have not felt like the bowler I once was since that first elbow op, if I am being honest. I used to be able to hit 90mph. I bowled 140kph, 142s consistently in that 2010-11 Ashes series and then had surgery. After that I struggled to hit 135."
We might look back on Jordan's career and reflect that he was unfortunate it coincided with Stokes'. He has shown, in glimpses, the qualities required of a Test seamer and he did seem to be settling into the side by the end of the 2015 Caribbean tour. But while he has decent pace and a nice range of skills, he has not quite managed the consistency required to hold down a place and the emergence of Wood and Woakes has seen him pushed down the pecking order. Aged 28, he could come again but it is telling that he played all eight of his Tests in the period when Peter Moores was coach.
What he said
"You always have ambition of getting back in the team and I'll be working very hard towards that. That can only be good for the team because there's great competition for places, so guys skills levels and everyone's game has to raise. It can only be good for English cricket."
England's 3rd/4th seamers in Tests when both Anderson and Broad have played (since Jan 2010)
Bowler Mats Wkts Ave 5-fors
 Steven Finn  22  77  29.94  3
 Tim Bresnan  13  42  33.31  1
 Chris Woakes  10  30  31.33  0
 Chris Jordan  8  21  35.81  0
 Mark Wood  8  21  43.62  0
 Chris Tremlett  5  20  26.60  1
 Liam Plunkett  4  18  34.44  1
 Graham Onions  1  3  52.00  0
 Ryan Sidebottom  1  2  49.00  0
 Boyd Rankin  1  1  81.00  0
A career that may be defined more by fitness than form. At his best (which has more often been in white ball cricket) Wood has shown a precious ability to extract life from docile surfaces but, after three ankle operations, there is still doubt over whether he has the frame to withstand the rigours of Test cricket. He is often handed the toughest of roles: breaking partnerships with the old ball in the flattest of conditions and he remains (fitness permitting) likely to make the Ashes tour party. But it would be understandable if he concluded that his future lay in the shorter formats. In recent outings, he has not quite been able to generate the pace or consistency England were hoping for and it is telling that, after 10 Tests, he had never taken more than three wickets in an innings.
What he said
He said: "It's no secret that I thought Test cricket was probably gone at one stage. One wicket at Lord's might not sound good but I was pleased with how I bowled and it was a proud moment to come back in the Test arena. We have bowlers waiting in the wings. Probably if they were fit, I wouldn't have played. Chris Woakes had a great year and it will be interesting to see what happens when he's back playing. The challenge becomes to prove to you guys, to my team-mates and the coaches that I can play three in a row. I have to keep these guys out of the team and that's the challenge."
Tremlett looked as if he had it all. Blessed with height, pace and terrific skills, he was recalled during the Ashes of 2010-11 - he replaced the injured Broad - and played a key part in England winning the series with 17 wickets in the final three Tests. He started the next summer as an automatic pick - and claimed his best figures of 6 for 48 against Sri Lanka in Southampton - but then injuries started to intervene. While England never gave up on him - he was recalled for one Test in Dubai and one at the start of the 2013-14 Ashes in a squad selected more on wishful thinking than form - it was clear that he could not quite recapture the nip that rendered him such a dangerous prospect previously. He still had the skills and the lovely action, but without the extra pace he once had, good batsmen on good pitches were able to adapt. He retired due to injury at the end of 2015 and, judging by social media posts, has spent most of his time since in the gym.
What he said
"Unfortunately injury has hampered me throughout my career and played the leading role in my decision to retire. There are always people that talk about my injuries and say I don't care enough or I don't want it enough. It's always nice to come back and prove certain people wrong. It something I get a bit of a buzz from: proving people wrong."
By the start of 2010, it appeared Plunkett's international career was over. He had played nine Tests between 2005 and 2007 but subsequently lost his way to the extent where he struggled to command a place in the Durham side. But a move to Yorkshire revived his confidence and he won a recall in 2014. While he bowled with good pace and took nine wickets in the match as Sri Lanka defeated England in Leeds, it was felt he didn't do quite enough with the ball and, with the odd injury intervening, he slipped back among the pack. He remains a key part of England's white ball sides, though, and has continued to develop new skills. It's not impossible that, aged 32, he could come again.
What he said
"I've seen so many people who've played for England and then two years later they're not even in the game. I didn't want that to happen to me. My problem was over-coaching, thinking about the game too much myself. And I just didn't play enough cricket. It got to the point where, when I was going to sleep at night, I was thinking about bowling four wides first ball. When you're younger you think it's the end of the world. Then, when you come to bowl again, you're a bit afraid to bowl. Different coaches told me different things and when you're a youngster you're like a sponge and take a lot of things in. I think you learn when you're older to filter stuff in and out. If it's good advice you can keep it and take it with you but if it's not you can say no thanks. I think I've learned to do that a bit better and just back myself."
Had it not been for a serious back injury that necessitated surgery in 2010, Onions may well have established himself as England's first change. As it was, he has had to be content with just nine Tests though they do include an important role in the Ashes success of 2009 and a memorable innings that defied South Africa in Cape Town. While he continued to bowl terrifically well in county cricket for Durham - he led the way when they won the County Championship in 2013 - it seems the England selectors concluded that, with his pace diminished due to injury, he required more helpful conditions than those generally seen at Test level to enjoy success. It's probably telling that Onions' last Test came (at Edgbaston in 2012) in a dead rubber match against West Indies when both Anderson and Broad were rested.
What he said
"I do feel a bit unlucky. At times I was compared to Jimmy Anderson, one of the best bowlers England have ever had and one of the best in the world. It was going to be hard to push him out the side, but for a period of time, Andy Flower and the captains didn't feel I was what they wanted. I suppose I do feel a bit harshly done by."
Sidebottom's excellent Test career was bookended by relatively modest one-off appearances. The first, in 2001, came six years before his second and saw England win but Sidebottom finish wicketless, while the final one, at Johannesburg in early 2010, came almost a year after his most recent appearance and saw Sidebottom claim a couple of wickets but England slip to an innings defeat. For a while, in 2007 and 2008, Sidebottom performed admirably for England often taking the new ball ahead of Broad and giving the side a left-arm variation (delivered with swing and pace) they have missed since. Given how well he has continued to perform for Yorkshire, it may well be the England selectors dispensed with him prematurely.
What he said
"The thing with playing Test cricket is that you get a bit more of a break between games. If you're playing a full season of county cricket, you simply can't bowl flat out all the time. You'd never get through the season. But you can afford to bowl flat out a bit more often in Test cricket. Some people get carried away by pace, anyway. It's true that maybe I swing the ball a bit later if I bowl a bit quicker, but being a fast bowler doesn't make you a good bowler. Some people get a bit fixated on pace."
Rankin's Test debut - his only Test to date - turned into something of a nightmare. Injured during training a couple of days before the Sydney Test of January 2014 (the final match of the 5-0 whitewash inflicted upon them by Australia in the 2013-14 Ashes), he was convinced the pain he felt was nerves and coerced into playing when unable to do himself justice. As a result, he was unable to generate any of the pace or hostility that had won him selection on the tour and had to leave the pitch several times for treatment on what was, at the time, thought to be cramp. Only weeks later was the seriousness of the injury fully diagnosed. England never called upon him again, but it seems likely fate will provide a second chance at Test cricket in the coming months. If fit, he is highly likely to feature in Ireland's maiden Test team.
What he said
"I wasn't anywhere near where I wanted to be in that Sydney game. I had torn half the cartilage off my shoulder in a fielding session we had a couple of days before the Test. So I was struggling with that and I had a back spasm during the Test as well. I felt I had to play. I had to take my chance, but I don't suppose I did that, really. I tried to fight hard through that. It was still a special occasion for me, but I did feel I let myself and the rest of the team down. It's been tough coming back from that."
And the latest recruit...
Roland-Jones had to wait a long time for his opportunity in Test cricket. While he has long been a respected bowler in county cricket, his talents - a probing line and length and ability to hit the bat pretty hard from a good length - are somewhat unfashionable in Test cricket. But, aged 29, he was called into the side as a result of injuries to Woakes, Ball and Wood and has enjoyed a dream start in becoming the first England seamer since Onions, in 2009, to claim a five-for on Test debut. He bowled beautifully, too, harnessing helpful seam conditions and using his height and skill to gain sharp bounce and movement. While there may be some doubts about his long-term career at this level - he is not especially quick and will rarely come across surfaces this conducive to his talents - he was probably a perfect pick for these conditions. It was noticeable, too, that he was preferred to James Anderson when England resumed bowling on the third morning. He may well have given England's selectors a headache once Woakes and Ball are fit again.
What he said
"This is the moment every young kid dreams of."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo