The Ashes 2013-14: The burning question for England as series begin

Who will be crucial third seamer for this week's First Test

Sydney

It would be wrong to suggest that the talking will stop in Brisbane on Thursday. This is an Ashes series, and when the players take the field in the First Test the talking, and much else besides, may merely be starting.

What will cease is the punditry phony war. The proper business will be at hand. There is a palpable air of excitement, undiminished by the sense that the teams played so recently for the great prize. It will be only 88 days since England confirmed their ascendancy at The Oval, denied an unprecedented 4-0 series victory by bad light.

If that margin would have flattered them after Australia increased the prospects of a result with two aggressive declarations, nobody should be deluded into subscribing to the much-touted theory that 3-0 was more than they deserved. Australia had their moments, and plenty of them in Manchester, but England won most of the big ones throughout the summer.

Two different kinds of history beckon for these tourists. Either they will become the first England team since the 1880s, when they did not play five-match series, to win the Ashes four times in succession, or they will be forever remembered as the side who lost the urn so soon after winning it.

The former remains more probable than the latter. England have had a faintly troubled preparation period which has involved repeated injury scares and too much rain, but without approaching peak form they completed it yesterday with a seven-wicket win against the Cricket Australia Invitation XI.

Each of the top-six batsmen have made fifties, four of them have made hundreds. They are in form. Three of the four bowlers are in the order they would expect. Graeme Swann, who Australia rather fancy themselves to clamber into, bowled 49 overs in the match at the SCG, enough of them at right-handers for him to remember where he should bowl at them.

One place remains the subject of debate and a matter for concern. The identity of England's third fast bowler in their four-man attack is still uncertain, or if it is certain it is so without any compelling evidence provided to make the choice. It could be crucial, indeed terminal at a ground where Australia have not lost for 25 years.

One of their more cerebral cricketers, Ed Cowan, who remains on the fringe of Test selection, reflected on the matter yesterday after the finish of the final practice match in which he scored 51 and 42 for the CA XI and was around long enough to have a look at all the bowling. England, he was sure, were ready, but he pinpointed their problem. He was not dismissive of either Steve Finn or Boyd Rankin, whose performances in the match may have propelled Chris Tremlett to the front of the selectors' minds. But nor did he try to conceal the truth with kindness.

"It was a hard place to bowl fast this week, with the sand in the outfield so it's hard to gauge," he said. "But, having said that, there was a bit in the wicket on day one.

"I thought Boyd bowled beautifully with the old ball yesterday – that spell screamed Test bowler – but that was probably the only one in the game that really lived up to what they are looking for from him.

"But I'm sure he'd be a very, very different proposition at the Gabba. He bowls a heavy ball, he's quick enough. But if you continually get too short at the Gabba, you'll get murdered. I think those two were probably too short all game."

There is the dilemma. Finn has lost confidence, and although he can still be a titan when the ball is reverse swinging, he seems to have forgotten how it was he did what he used to do. Rankin would be making his Test debut, a risk heightened because he has not yet established what length is wise to bowl on Australian pitches. Tremlett can be a menace but it is extremely questionable that he can be the menace of three years ago.

Which leaves the fitness of Tim Bresnan, recovering rapidly from a stress fracture as he travels around Australia with the squad but not rapidly enough. Had the selectors picked Graham Onions of Durham they might have saved themselves some bother now. But Onions's 70 wickets at 18.46 in helping Durham to the Championship were deemed insufficient. How they need Bresilad, the cricketers' cricketer.

"I just think Bresnan's a massive player for them," Cowan said. "He's a bit of an unsung hero. He bowls a huge amount of overs, never really gets hit out of the attack, takes big wickets – and as we saw during the last Ashes series, he scores some really important runs. That's a huge 'out', and I think Australia will look to exploit that third seamer."

Recent series defeats to England and, more narrowly, South Africa, should not conceal how tough Australia are to beat at home generally. Their selectors, straining for loyalty as if it were itself a winning commodity, have tried to stay faithful to those who finished the series in England. There are two additions for Brisbane with Mitchell Johnson being recalled and George Bailey being invited to make his debut at No 6. Little about it bespeaks an overwhelming task force.

Protecting the Gabba record is the priority. Everything else can follow. But if England take a 1-0 lead, the tourists could and should dominate the series. And that's big talk.

The key determinants

Battle of the bad backs

Both captains have intermittent back complaints. Michael Clarke will have plenty of chance to test his against a bouncer barrage.

Lively pitches

Australia promise there will be no dry slow turners as in England last summer. Expect pace and bounce – until it goes wrong.

Wicketkeeping

England need Matt Prior fit. Jonny Bairstow is a work in progress and may not be ready for Test duty.

Coaching styles

Andy Flower, serious, sometimes grave, means business. Darren Lehmann, ever genial, open, means business. Which style will prevail?

Swann song

Australia's spin options are negligible. Graeme Swann (right) is crucial to England and every effort will be made to hit him out of the series.

Weather warning

Bushfires are a huge problem in Australia but rain has followed England. Storms are forecast for Brisbane early next week which may require revised plans.

Sledging

The crowds are primed to sledge the Poms. Stuart Broad (right) will be a special target, but it's ok: he has broad shoulders.

Ashes dates

First Test 21-25 November, The Gabba, Brisbane

Second Test 5-9 December, Adelaide Oval

Third Test 13-17 December, WACA, Perth

Fourth Test 26-30 December, Melbourne Cricket Ground

Fifth Test 3-7 January, Sydney Cricket Ground

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London