Speculation is rampant about Australia's team for the Ashes.
So excited has the nation become that the announcement of its composition is being turned into a live showbiz event down at Sydney Harbour next Monday. It only seems an oversight by Cricket Australia that the chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, is not, apparently, to be accompanied by dancing girls. Or not yet.
The punters who turn up to the stage at Circular Quay may well be disappointed. There has been plenty of talk about the need for change in a weary team but the old guard, it is being daily hinted, will stay – Michael Clarke has just made a timely hundred for New South Wales. Maybe the thinking is that it needs some fake razzmatazz to obscure the tedium.
Nothing so grandiose for England. Their team for the first Test in Brisbane on 25 November is as predictable as meat pies for lunch in Adelaide. They could probably have named it, without much selectorial debate, two months ago. If there were any doubts (and they probably existed only in the imagination of pundits with a living to make) they were allayed yesterday on the second day of the second tour match against South Australia.
Doubtless it will be formally declared only when the team sheets are handed in at the toss on the first morning of the series. There will be no bells and whistles. Until then, England, as is their wont, are saying nowt.
They chose the XI for this match who had played in Perth last week, thus showing their hand, if not formally confirming their thought processes. And the chosen few had a grand day yesterday. If there was any confusion about the four members of the bowling attack, there is not now. They bowled out South Australia for 221, giving the tourists a lead of 67. Before the close that had been extended to 161, and the captain Andrew Strauss had compiled another half-century, a blazing affair which included three sixes, in an unbeaten first-wicket partnership of 94 with Alastair Cook.
The bowling quartet all contributed yesterday under a cloudy sky. Much is made about bowling in partnerships and that is what they did. There were wickets for all of them, four for the prodigious Graeme Swann who had a long spell from the Cathedral End, three for Jimmy Anderson, two for the increasingly impressive Steve Finn and one for Stuart Broad.
Of those, Anderson's were perhaps the most significant. He is the leader of England's attack because he is their most experienced bowler but there is a suspicion that he does not take enough wickets unless conditions are in his favour. At times he erred in line yesterday but eventually a proper rhythm returned.
His first two wickets came from a leg side flick and a steer to gully, but the third was provided by a peach of a delivery which reared at Graham Manou, who could only glove it to Strauss at first slip. When Anderson bowls balls like those he is a handful for any batsman in the world. But sometimes lately he has been prosaic, which England can ill afford in the Ashes and certainly not on the first morning.
"It was good to play on a ground where we're going to play a Test match in a couple of weeks," Anderson said. "The wicket probably won't be the same but the experience is still important. As bowlers we've gone through some bad spells. I wasn't that good in my middle period and the other bowlers have had similar feelings. Although we're getting the wickets we can still improve before that first Test."
The three fast bowlers who play in the opening match of the series – Anderson, Broad, Finn – will almost certainly travel to Brisbane early next week to become better acquainted with the climate and conditions. It means that England will play their second-string seam attack against Australia A in Tasmania next week and it quite clearly creates a division in the squad: preferential treatment for one set of bowlers.
Since the England coach, Andy Flower, generally knows what he is up to, it would be foolhardy to criticise the move out of hand. But its potential for awkwardness is clear. Cricket squads on tour should stick together. It is expected now that Swann will take wickets and he duly obliged yesterday. There did not seem much in it for him in the morning but the South Australians were too aggressive towards him and he is much too cunning to allow that.
Perhaps it is a measure of the way the home side batted that five of them made more than 20 but none made fifty. Callum Ferguson, who is on the verge of Test recognition (but not at Brisbane) typified their general approach by playing almost a shot a ball. It was upright and entertaining but he perished when attempting to pull Finn, the ball growing big on him.
There was one mild injury scare when Jonathan Trott fell on his shoulder attempting a catch offered by Aaron O'Brien. For a fleeting moment it looked that he had fallen awkwardly enough to prompt a gloomy prognosis. He was back on the field within five minutes.
Play was delayed for an hour at the start and again briefly in the afternoon. The rain is unseasonal and much needed. Australia is at last coming to the end of a drought which some have said is the worst for 1000 years – though nobody truly knows. After a decade of parched earth it is raining up and down the country.
But the Adelaide outfield drained quickly to allow all but a full quota of overs. The redeveloped ground itself, with its A$116m (£80m) new stand, is a tribute to proper planning of the sort which is too often overlooked in England in the pursuit of mammon. When it is full for the Test here a month from now it will look splendid.
*Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amer will have their spot-fixing hearings in front of an ICC anti-corruption tribunal in Doha in January.
Adelaide (Second day of three): England lead South Australia by 161 runs with 10 second-inning wickets remaining
England won toss
England First Innings: 288-8 dec (P D Collingwood 94, I R Bell 61, P R George 3-65)
South Australia First Innings
J D Smith c †Prior b Broad: 23
D J Harris c Trott b Anderson: 10
*M Klinger c Pietersen b Anderson: 38
C J Ferguson c Broad b Finn: 35
A C Blizzard c Anderson b Swann: 49
†G A Manou c Strauss b Anderson: 0
A W O'Brien not out: 43
T E Lang c Pietersen b Swann: 8
J A Haberfield b Finn: 0
B M Edmondson lbw b Swann: 4
P R George st Prior b Swann: 4
Extras (lb 3, w 1, nb 3): 7
Total (67.4 overs): 221
Bowling: J M Anderson 17-3-62-3, S C J Broad 13-2-41-1, S T Finn 15-4-47-2, G P Swann 22.4-4-68-4.
England Second Innings
*A J Strauss not out: 56
A N Cook not out: 37
Extras (w 1): 1
Total: (0 wkts, 23 overs)94
To Bat: I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling: P R George 7-1-21-0, B M Edmondson 6-1-17-0, J A Haberfield 0.4-0-4-0, T E Lang 4.2-0-31-0, A W O'Brien 5-1-21-0.
Umpires: S D Fry & B N J Oxenford.
12 Days To The Ashes
12 is the number of dismissals made by England wicket-keeper Matt Prior in five Ashes Tests. Prior played a major role on both sides of the stumps in England’s 2009 series win, making 11 catches and one stumping to go with some stirring middle-order displays with the bat.Reuse content