Three English fast bowlers will arrive in Melbourne today with a sudden shot at Ashes glory. It is hardly too dramatic to suggest that the next three days could define their careers.
Following the injury to Stuart Broad, one of the key components in the side's quest to win the series, the man who replaces him will have a significant role in the third Test which starts next week. England won the second Test yesterday by an innings and 71 runs and would appear to have their opponents on the run.
England deliberately tried to pick a like-for-like bowling attack for this Ashes series so that injuries to any of the initial group of bowlers selected could be covered and enable them to continue with a carefully planned strategy.
But Broad's replacement is not obvious. Any one of Chris Tremlett, like him 6ft 7ins tall and capable of generating disconcerting lift from a length, Ajmal Shahzad, an exponent of reverse swing, and Tim Bresnan, a whole-hearted bowler who has more pace than is sometimes recognised, could come in for the match in Perth.
First they must go through their paces, so to speak, in the three-day first class match against Victoria in Melbourne starting tomorrow. All will play and while the team management probably have a clear idea of who they want, it is not set in stone. Perhaps it is Tremlett's place to lose. But the enforced absence for the rest of the series of Broad, a Test veteran of 24, will be deeply felt by the squad. He has grown in stature with almost every game since making his debut in 2007 and was instrumental in the win at The Oval last year that secured the Ashes once more.
Broad suffered a tear in an abdominal muscle near the start of Australia's second innings in Adelaide on Monday. He sought repeatedly to take the field again and had an injection to try to disguise the problem but it was to no avail.
The injury took the edge off England's elation – clad only in his underwear, Paul Collingwood was seen sliding across the Adelaide Oval covers as the celebrations stretched into a rainy evening – at their first meaningful Test win in Australia for a generation. It was the sort of occurrence a meticulous management have accounted for in their planning for the series but that hardly lessened its impact.
Andrew Strauss, the team's captain, said: "He is distraught and we are all distraught he is going to be leaving us, he is a big part of our side on and off the field, he has been one of the mainstays of the attack for a while now and has all the ingredients to bowl well in Australia as well, but the show moves on and the other three bowlers have the chance to have an impact on the series."
Broad was almost inconsolable at having to curtail his tour. He said: "Obviously I'm heartbroken. I'm distraught at leaving the tour," he said. "Within two or three balls of my spell, I knew I was in big trouble.
"I put a couple of bouncers in and I could hardly breathe. I knew my tourwas over. I was going for broke then, and just trying to get a wicket before I was gone. I had an injection to see if I could get through this Test, bowling and do a job from one end. But the tear was too big, and it wasn't really feasible."
Although Broad's impact on the series so far had been negligible (two wickets for 166 runs and out first ball in his only innings, incidentally starting a horrid run for the No 8 batsmen on both sides who are yet to contribute a run in the series) he has, as Strauss said, all the ingredients necessary to bowl well in Australia.
"It's going to be hard to watch, but I will be watching – because the guys are playing fantastic cricket," said Broad. "My family are coming out for Christmas, so we will probably cross like ships in the night."
Broad is left dangling on 99 Test wickets to add to his 1,096 runs. His objective on returning to England will be to be fit in time for the World Cup which begins in the sub-continent in mid-February, though the nature of the injury suggests he will be cutting that fine. "It's eight to 10 weeks' rehab, and the first World Cup game is in nine weeks," he said. It is actually nearly 11 weeks until England play their opening game, but as Broad added: "The thing about that World Cup is that it goes on for years, so even if I miss the first game I'll still be available for the end of it."
Australia will also have to make changes for Perth with Simon Katich injured, while Xavier Doherty seems likely to be replaced and the seamers are also under threat.
"We have faced a lot of challenges and the guys have stood up to those challenges but we haven't been good enough to win them," said Ricky Ponting. "That's the bottom line. There's a great challenge there, one for the batting group to stand up and start putting some pressure back on the England bowlers with some partnerships and some individuals doing some special things. I think the bowling group, we just have to be able to execute things better."
Contenders for Perth
Age: 29 Tests: 3 Wickets: 13 Av: 29.69
Best: 3-12 v India, Trent Bridge 2007
Played the last of three Tests against India three years ago. Favourite to play given the expected bounce at the Waca.
Age: 25 Tests: 1 Wickets: 4 Av: 15.75
Best: 3-45 v Bang, Old Trafford 2010
Made his debut against Bangladesh in the summer where his ability to reverse swing the ball made an immediate mark.
Age: 25 Tests: 5 Wickets: 14 Av: 35.14
Best: 3-45 v West Indies, Durham 2009
Best batsman of the trio and marginally the more experienced, but three of his Tests have been against Bangladesh.Reuse content