England fail to solve Test questions

Western Australia XI 451-5d & 168-5 England 391 (Match drawn): Third seamer role and No 6 slot still up for grabs after inconclusive opening game of Ashes tour


England travel 2,575 miles to Tasmania today on the next leg of their Ashes tour. The distance from settling their team for the First Test in 18 days is only slightly less.

On the face of it, the fact that nine of the 11 players are already determined is all that could be expected if the theory of competition for places is to have any worth. But by recent England standards it represents rank instability.

Three years ago, when they prevailed 3-1 in an epic Ashes triumph, the tourists came here knowing the composition of the XI they wanted for the First Test and exactly where they might need to turn afterwards. It is no longer so straightforward.

The draw in the three-day match against the Waca Chairman's XI which ended yesterday posed as many questions as it provided answers. At stake are the troublesome No 6 berth in the batting order and the role of the third seamer in a four-man attack.

Three, perhaps four, of the squad still have a chance of going in at six, one of any three bowlers, all of them 6ft 7in tall, could fill the bowling place. None of this seven made a cast-iron case in Perth for selection in Brisbane on 21 November, yet none is yet out of the reckoning.

To finalise that team the tour selectors must now decide who should play the second match of the tour against Australia A in Hobart, starting on Wednesday. At odds with 2010, several permutations are possible.

Of the quartet who could bat at six, Michael Carberry was by a distance the top scorer in the opening match. But his 78 came as the reserve opener, which was the job he was picked for. Were he to play in the Test middle order it would say much about the failings of others.

Gary Ballance was out first ball yesterday, his second duck in two innings for England following his second-ball dismissal on his one-day debut in September. These things happen, but they cannot recur too many times if he is to have a realistic chance of Test selection.

Jonny Bairstow did not play in the match and will have to be given an opportunity in Hobart. Ben Stokes made only four and was unimpressive with the ball. In an ideal world England would want an all-rounder such as Stokes at No 6, and although it has not been an ideal world for four years, they have coped admirably.

Stokes, perhaps, has more to do than anyone if he is to have a chance of playing early in the series, and little time to amass the evidence that he can bat at six in a Test match. England only have to look at Australia's middle order to see where picking players who are not ready for Test cricket, or are not up to it, can get you.

Boyd Rankin was perhaps the most impressive of the three tall fast bowlers after an extremely indifferent start on the first day. Steve Finn and Chris Tremlett came up on the rails.

Pushed to read the selectors' minds, it is possible to conclude that they might prefer Finn, who at 24 should be approaching his prime and has, or at least had, the happy knack of taking wickets, a skill which can sometimes avoid reason or explanation. But he was wayward for most of the time in Perth.

Tremlett, a splendid practitioner capable of swinging the ball, looks worryingly down on pace at present with no certainty that he can retrieve it. Rankin, who was hostile at times yesterday with the new ball, is 31 next March and would be the oldest fast bowler to start an England Test career since Jonathan Lewis played his only Test seven years ago.

England would just about be happy enough with the outcome of their first foray. Crucially, they improved as the match wore on. There was a seamless hundred for Ian Bell, whose balance and composure were, as usual, enviable, and something similar if less eloquent from Jonathan Trott.

Alastair Cook, the captain whose sore back has unstiffened, Kevin Pietersen, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann will all play their first match in Hobart. There is the feeling that the tour starts in earnest there.

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