Face for 2009: Chris Tremlett

Warne nurtures the English McGrath
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The Independent Online

From the very beginning, Chris Tremlett appeared to have the necessary credentials to be a bowler. First, it was in the genes: he is the grandson of Maurice, the Somerset and England all-rounder, and the son of Tim, an upright, pinpoint seamer in the English tradition.

From the very beginning, Chris Tremlett appeared to have the necessary credentials to be a bowler. First, it was in the genes: he is the grandson of Maurice, the Somerset and England all-rounder, and the son of Tim, an upright, pinpoint seamer in the English tradition.

Secondly, in case that was not quite sufficient, he took a wicket with his first ball in first-class cricket. These are the sort of solid foundations that tend to make people sit up and take notice. It has taken a few years to build on them, but the hopes and expectations that they might support a substantial edifice are coming closer.

Tremlett has had his setbacks since his auspicious debut as an 18-year-old in the summer of 2000 - mostly in the form of four stress fractures in his feet - but he has begun this season with a real dash. A career-best score of 62 in Hampshire's first Championship match was followed by career-best bowling figures of 6 for 44 in the second.

In between he received an encomium from his county captain, Shane Warne, which would have made a president blush. Warne said that Tremlett had bowled sensationally in the initial victory over Gloucestershire and had applied the pressure which led to the win. He also said that Tremlett was in the mix for an England spot as first change.

Australians have frequently picked England teams for their own benefit, but Warne was being earnest rather than mischievous. Tremlett is definitely nudging the selectors. He and Liam Plunkett of Durham, who is only 20, are perhaps the two brightest young bowling sparks in the country.

Two injuries may be all it will now take to persuade the selectors to give him a bash. A place in the new Development Squad of 25 players, to be announced early in May, is much in the question. But if not now, it is easy to envisage Tremlett being a key part of England's attack by 2009.

"It always helps to be in good form at the start of the season, and Chris is certainly one of the reasons that selectors' meetings tend to last a long time," said David Graveney, the chairman of selectors. "I was impressed by him when we went to Hong Kong for a tournament last autumn. There's a lot of him."

Indeed there is. At 6ft 7in and 16 1/2st, Tremlett's most obvious weapon is the height which enables him to achieve disconcerting bounce from a good length. It is the sort of ball, repeated and repeated, which is the stuff of nightmares for batsmen. Andrew Caddick and, to a more enduringly probing extent, Glenn McGrath have been recent top exponents.

"I think sometimes it's possible for selectors to go on about being quick and trying to go for real quick guys all the time," Tremlett said last week after he had shown Sussex what bounce allied to control could do. "That can be a bit annoying sometimes when you look at guys like McGrath. He's got the ability to put it on a sixpence every ball, which is what I want to do but can't at the moment. He's the sort of guy I've wanted to bowl like ever since I started getting serious about cricket, and he comes in at 80mph."

If McGrath can land the ball on a sixpence, Tremlett has gone from dustbin lid to tea plate. "I don't think there's any reason I couldn't bowl like McGrath. I've got the height, a similar sort of pace, so it's just the skill level to go. All he really tries to do is keep it simple, hit the seam so that it will go one way or the other. He doesn't really try to take wickets, just bowl maidens so that the batsmen eventually get themselves out. That's what he told me, anyway."

Tremlett is naturally slightly defensive about his pace, possibly because some judges, including former bowlers, suggest he needs more of it - as well as belligerence - to make the breakthrough. He may have a point, because although express pace has its obvious appeal there is a level below that where other ingredients come into play. If Tremlett tries to bowl too quickly he also bowls too short. As for aggression, he is a naturally relaxed man, though he has sought the advice of sports psychologists to check if he can become a little more pumped up once he crosses the white line.

The injuries to a body that has continued to develop were probably to be expected. If they undoubtedly halted his progress and cast some doubts on his future, this may perversely eventually prove to have been beneficial. Since his dramatic debut in 2000, he has played only 44 first-class matches and thus has not suffered from too much bowling.

He was 15 when he became serious about his bowling, and he grew in height quickly. He was picked for Hampshire against New Zealand A in 2000, and his first ball bounced more than the batsman, Mark Richardson, expected. The man at short leg took the catch, and a bowling method was confirmed. (His grandfather, Maurice, who died when Chris was two, rather burst on to the scene as well by taking 5 for 39 in his first match.)

Subsequently, Chris created a good impression at the National Academy and has started to use his time in the gym more effectively by working on the bodily parts which bowlers use. He began last summer hoping to nudge the selectors into picking him in a one-day squad, made the initial 30 for the Champions Trophy but was then injured. His goal is similar for 2005.

A potential disadvantage is having the Rose Bowl as his home ground, a point both Tremlett and Graveney recognised. It may have something going for it as the newest venue in English cricket, but it is perceived as a bowler's demi-paradise. "For me, it's not really a good thing," Tremlett said. "I don't think England selectors will look at me if I am bowling all the time on wickets that are doing a bit." Which is why the six wickets at Hove were definitely worthy of attention.

These are early days in 2005, but they have brought nearer the next Tremlett of England.