Still just the one place left to fill then. It might come down to a hunch, a feeling, a calculated guess more than form or pedigree. But that is why selection is an art and not a science. It is why close scrutiny of runs and wickets will take a selector so far but not far enough.
England are probably nearer now to knowing their preferred XI for the first Test of the Ashes than they were two days ago. Perversely, they might not be as close as they thought they were a month ago, but time and form wait for no man.
By finishing with 5 for 103 in the first innings of the final warm-up match, Steve Finn at the very least made it difficult to be ignored for the third fast-bowling berth in Brisbane next week. He was smoother and more accurate on the second day than the first, which does not mean he was exactly rhythmic. There was less evidence to suggest that the ball had a mind of its own.
Nor was he put under sustained pressure for the place by his chief rival in this final warm-up match, Boyd Rankin. The Northern Irishman, who was compelling at times during the one-day series against Australia at the end of the English summer, bowled too short throughout the innings. It may be a ploy but he was too readily pursuing it.
Chris Tremlett is the third contender. His selection would depend on how much the selectors trust the five quick, incisive overs he bowled at Hobart last week as the match against Australia A petered out. Briefly, he looked like the Tremlett of three years ago who had Aussies quaking.
The case for Finn grew as he took three more wickets on Thursday, the first caught at slip, the others in the covers from shorter balls. It brought the Invitation XI’s innings to a shuddering halt, the last five wickets falling for 33 as they made 304
England then enjoyed their time in the sun on a placid pitch against unthreatening bowling to reach 302 for 5. There were runs but not hundreds for Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, and a few less for Ian Bell. James Muirhead, a 20-year-old leg-spinner from Victoria, dismissed both Bell and Pietersen, his third and fourth victims in first-class cricket. He will remember them forever.
But the third seamer’s spot was the crucial business. There might have been moments when it felt as though Finn’s pace was up, there were none when he looked the bowler he might have become by now.
Finn is an attractive Brisbane proposition for two reasons. Were England to plump for him it would mean they had started three successive Ashes series with the same four-man attack, an unprecedented sequence. Never have they come on consecutive tours of Australia and fielded in the first Test the bowlers whom they fielded on the previous tour.
There is also the inescapable matter of Finn’s ability to take wickets. He goes round the park but his strike-rate is unarguably good. His most recent Test was the first of the home Ashes last summer. He was dropped because he bowled like a drain but even then he took the first two wickets of the series.
- More about:
- Alastair Cook
- Ian Bell
- Kevin Pietersen
- Stuart Broad