England's tour of Australia will begin officially tomorrow. It does not mean the talking will stop – that will happen only when the Ashes series begins in 21 days – but the advent of some proper cricket will make it slightly less meaningless.
The tourists are likely to field a full strength XI against Western Australia, which should be a firm indication of the side which will play in the first Test in Brisbane. Jimmy Anderson, the fast bowler who injured a rib during the squad's boot camp in November, has been passed fit to play and indeed has been letting it slip in practice since the team's arrival.
Graeme Swann, the off-spinner upon whom so many of the team's aspirations have come to depend, is also able to play, having shaken off the effects of a rap across the knuckles he received in the nets two days ago. You always sense that Swann is so mischievous and tweets so fervently that he is bound, before this tour is over, to receive a more metaphorical rap.
The tourists' management insist that a couple of places are up for grabs and so it must be granted some credence. Perhaps one of the middle-order places is yet to be finalised, although the smart money remains on Ian Bell to replace Eoin Morgan. The manner in which Chris Tremlett has begun in the nets suggests that he is not merely along for the ride, though the Test seam triumvirate of Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn retains that "certain to play" look.
It is possible that the front-line bowlers will be sent to Brisbane before the first Test to accustom themselves to conditions there. This would entail their missing the match against Australia A in Hobart and in some ways would defeat the point of playing three first-class warm-up matches.
"It's one of the options we're looking at," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "Nothing is clear enough to say that categorically at this stage. We're not 100 per cent sure what the Test attack is going to be." England intend to prepare as assiduously as possible but, in leaving no stone unturned, it might be possible to make the road to the Ashes impassable.Reuse content