England began strongly and finished weakly today in their final match before the Ashes. They will have been delighted simply to play a full day’s cricket under a cloudless sky.
The Cricket Australia Invitational XI, the name finally settled on for their opponents, made 271 for 5, a significant recovery after being 93 for 5 early in the afternoon. Much, if not all of the intrigue lay in the contest within the contest.
Assuming that injured players recover, only one place, for the third seamer, is now available for the First Test next week. Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin were invited to file last minute applications after being chosen for the match ahead of their rival for the spot, Chris Tremlett.
Their performances probably meant that the tourists were little the wiser about who should start the series. All three have so far done barely more than flatter to deceive since landing in Australia, a trend which continued today in the final warm-up match.
Neither made a cast iron case for selection in Brisbane and although Rankin was superior, it was Finn who took two wickets. Rankin’s rhythm in both approach and landing was smoother, Finn was regularly careering off the runway short of speed.
Only Finn’s record as a proven Test wicket-taker can possibly make him a viable proposition but it is difficult to think that will be sufficient. Rankin, who began slowly in Perth, still looks short of bowling but that could be said for all England’s bowlers.
By some distance the most impressive bowler on display was Stuart Broad. Having looked distinctly under-rehearsed in his ten overs in Hobart last week he found some zest immediately today, taking two wickets in his opening spell.
When this fixture was originally announced, England’s opponents were New South Wales. After several guises and much reshuffling of players it became a CA Invitation XI today, NSW perhaps washing their hands of it all.
But it was two of their own, Ryan Carters and Peter Nevill, both wicketkeepers by trade, who pulled them out of the mire today. They both played attractively against some increasingly tame bowling.
It was at odds with the first two sessions. In the first hour Broad swiftly produced a peach to remove Aaron Finch caught behind. Ed Cowan, trying to regain his Test place, made a well-ordered fifty before giving Finn his second wicket, pulling a long hop to mid-wicket. It is a happy knack to have.