The Ashes: Stuart Broad quickly hits stride but rival pacemen come up short

England still do not seem to know their Test team after frustrating day in the field

sydney cricket ground

None of it may matter by the time England return to the drab old ground. A new year will have started, the Ashes might already be won for the fourth time in a row, the stadium may be fit for purpose.

Of those, the first is a certainty given all the previous successful occurrences. The second is far from definite considering form thus far, though not as dubious as Australia would like to think. And the third, on the available evidence, is highly improbable.

The tourists did not look ready for a Test series at the end of the first day of their final practice match, in which a Cricket Australia Invitation XI reached 271 for 5. They had the better of the early exchanges, when they took five wickets, and the worse of the later ones when they took none.

It is reasonable to suppose, however, they are better prepared than the Sydney Cricket Ground, where the Sir Donald Bradman Stand is being rebuilt. A little more than eight weeks away from a Test which could decide both the Ashes and the series if the home side play above themselves and the visitors beneath themselves, the place is a building site.

Whatever the SCG gains from its refurbishment, it has probably lost a great deal more.The Hill was swept away yonks ago in the name of progress and now the place has become a concrete bowl in the name of Aussie Rules football, which brings in the bucks. They have retained the old pavilion and its ornate metalwork but it will be overwhelmed. Cricket, as at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is an afterthought.

England are desperately trying to make up for lost time. When they say they do not know their team, they are probably speaking the truth for once. Unless they really have already decided, they may not have been much clearer on the identity of the third seamer after a full day of bowling.

The pitch and the bowling grew flat in unison as the day wore on. Stuart Broad, who will definitely play in the first Test in Brisbane next week, found his touch and his length. He took advantage of more amenable conditions early on and got 3 for 36, with two wickets in his opening spell and another soon after lunch. But it was not Broad whom the selectors were watching, or whom the captain, Alastair Cook, was mentally grilling from first slip.

This was another exam day for Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin. With their equally tall colleague Chris Tremlett, who is not playing in the match, they are still auditioning for the last place in the Test team.

Neither made an unanswerable case. Finn improved slightly as the day continued but he had much to improve on. He was all over the place and simply not quick enough. Rankin bowled enough bouncers to make England's preferred strategy plain but he took no wickets to Finn's two.

Several of Australia's batsmen can expect to have their ribs tickled by England's bowlers in this series, not least Michael Clarke. But it needs rather more solicitous use than it received. Perhaps Rankin was merely honing it to ensure it is second nature when it matters, but it would be welcome if he bowled slightly fuller in length and extracted bounce. That is what instils doubt and, on a bad day, fear into batsmen's minds.

Broad was relaxed about England's divided day and relieved to have bowled 20 overs, his first full day in the field since September. The sand on the outfield, top dressing after the AFL season, took its toll on the bowlers' legs but perhaps that was a good thing too. England have not had much cricket and the harder it is now, the better for later.

"We've not had a huge amount of cricket on this tour so far but we've got a lot of experience in the changing room," said Broad. "There are guys who've played 60, 70, 80 Tests, and guys who have fantastic winning records. You can fall back on that experience when you don't get a lot of time in the middle so there's no real worry in the changing room."

For most of the morning and early afternoon it seemed the hosts would be soft touches. They had been through several incarnations before making the starting line.

They began as New South Wales when the fixtures were first drafted, were relegated to a NSW XI when it was clear there was a Sheffield Shield clash, changing to a NSW Invitation XI when England requested stronger opponents and then finally to a CA team when they were reduced virtually to asking passers-by if they wanted a game. If any of the builders had said their hard hats were cricket helmets they might have been in.

But after they fell to 93 for 5, Peter Nevill and Ryan Carters, two reserve wicketkeepers by trade, batted with gumption and style. Both made fifties in an unbroken stand of 178.

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