Right on cue the International Cricket Council stuck its nose into Ashes business yesterday. Such interventions are as welcome as those folk from outside Yorkshire or Lancashire who seek to become involved in the Roses and are usually advised: “It’s nowt to do wi’ thee.”
The ICC announced that England are on the verge of moving up to second in the world Test rankings. A win or a draw in the fifth Test against Australia, which starts tomorrow, will take them above India, though still leaving them about the length of the river Limpopo behind South Africa.
It may seem a reasonable goal to have – not least because a top four place is needed for entry into the World Test Championship in 2017 – but it is where the trouble started for England a couple of years ago. They were looking in splendid fettle then, if anything slicker than they are at present, winners of the Ashes away and taking all before them at home. This form took them all the way to No 1 in the ICC rankings, which seemed to become something of an obsession. Before they knew it they were being thrashed by Pakistan away and South Africa at home.
England will not make that mistake again despite the ICC’s enticing message yesterday. They must concentrate only on the immediate task at hand, which is winning a fourth match in a home Ashes series for the first time.
Twice before in modern times they have had the opportunity, only to be held to draws at The Oval on both occasions, in 1977 and 1981. This Australia squad is beginning to look more vulnerable than either of those predecessors simply because they have continually been usurped after creating promising positions.
England will be forced to make one change in their side, with Tim Bresnan out because of a stress fracture in his lower back, and are expected to introduce their 13th player of the series. Chris Tremlett should be asked to resume a much-interrupted Test career, which began in 2007 but has brought only 11 appearances.
He has missed 67 Tests, mostly through a litany of injuries which have involved long periods of rehabilitation. A career of, say, 50 appearances would have been much more in keeping with his talents.
Playing a record which has revolved round the turntable many times before, Tremlett said yesterday: “I’ve had a lot of time out through injury and it’s taken time to find my rhythm again and get back into shape. With my injuries, I don’t look too far ahead. I’m just looking forward to this week. I’d love to be involved again in Oz – it was a great experience last time – but it’s about the Test coming up, not going to Oz.”
This will be the third and almost certainly the final phase of Tremlett’s international career. He made his initial foray in the summer of 2007 and immediately caught the eye at Trent Bridge, where he made India work for their win with some blistering bounce. Injury was soon to intervene and it was a long road back to the Ashes in Australia in 2010-11. Perhaps only a chance encounter with England’s new bowling coach, David Saker, ensured that he was restored.
Saker, who knows exactly what he is looking for in a fast bowler, immediately liked what he saw: accuracy, sufficient pace and disconcerting bounce from a decent length. Tremlett made significant incursions into Australia’s batting in the last Ashes series in the three matches he played and bowled the ball that clinched the series at Sydney.
But it was all too good to be true. A year later his 6ft 8in, sculpted frame let him down again in the UAE and this recovery has been arduous. This epitome of a gentle giant has learnt to accept it.
“It was the motivation of the end goal: trying to get back playing for England and still believing I could do,” he said. “It’s always frustrating to go out of the team due to injury rather than a lack of form and that’s been the case throughout my England career. But it’s always driven me on to keep trying and I’ve always believed I can compete at that level. That motivation has always kept me going, even though I’ve had some dark and testing times coming back from injury. Sitting here now, I’m in a pretty good place again.”
Tremlett has gradually picked up the tempo this summer and England have included him in three of their Test squads. Saker still likes what he sees.
“The start of the season was tough, finding rhythm and getting match overs back into my legs,” Tremlett said. “As the season has gone on, the better I’ve bowled. My figures might not suggest that on paper, but the last three or four Championship games I’ve played in I’ve been up near my best.”
For England it is about a little more than this week at The Oval. They have Tremlett and his bounce firmly in mind for their defence of the Ashes this winter.
“Over in Oz the wickets were more conducive to my back-of-a-length-style bowling,” he said. “Over here I pitch it up a bit more. But in Test cricket you always have that back-of-length ball in your armoury.”
This was probably not music to the ears of Australia, who confirmed yesterday that the promising pace bowler Pat Cummins will miss the return Ashes series owing to a recurrence of his back problems.
Whatever happens this week the tourists drop to fifth in the rankings, according to the ICC. But then it’s nowt to do wi’ them, Cobber.