Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points as England struggle in Sydney

Ashes 2013-14: The battle for England's third seamer spot heats up as Australia Invitational XI finish on 271-5 on day one

By Stuart Clarke

Such great heights

England showed that the battle for third seamer spot in their team for the first Test in Brisbane is still wide open. With Chris Tremlett rested for this match, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin were given the chance to stake claim for a place in the first Test. Without Jimmy Anderson, who has also been given a rest, the England bowling line-up seemed to lack a little variety. With Finn and Rankin measuring in at 6ft 7ins, and Stuart Broad at a mere 6ft 5ins, the Australian Invitation XI could be reasonably confident as to what they were going to see. Broad showed that he was hitting form at the right time, taking the early wickets of Aaron Finch and Callum Ferguson, finishing with 3/36 from 20 overs. Whilst, the Australian batsmen will have strained their necks to spot the ball coming out of the hands of Finn and Rankin, the two quick-men bowled largely indifferent spells, despite Finn’s two wickets. Tremlett’s grip on a place in the first Test will not have been loosened, although one inspired spell from one of his rivals may just be enough to shift that balance.

Bairstow behind the stumps

The potential loss of Matt Prior from the first Test is undoubtedly a worry for England, but many experts do not believe that Jonny Bairstow is the answer. Ashes winning captain Michael Vaughan does not reckon that his fellow Yorkshireman is even in the top five wicket-keepers in England. Bairstow averages a little over 30 in his 12 Tests, compared to Prior’s average of 42, and Vaughan told the BBC that he is worried that Bairstow might not perform under the pressure of the Gabba. “He hasn’t done enough for Yorkshire this summer because he has been playing for England,” he said. “The selectors feel Bairstow is the next best, but I would question that”. With one-day and T20 keeper Jos Buttler in Australia with the England Performance Programme, this gives the selectors another option, but another inexperienced one at that.

Backup ‘keepers keep England waiting

It wasn’t England’s wicket-keeper who stole some of the first-day headlines, however, with Ryan Carters and Peter Nevill saving the Invitational XI’s blushes. Carters and Nevill, who are back-ups to Australia’s Brad Haddin in the New South Wales squad, put on an unbeaten 178 for the sixth wicket, after the hosts fell to 93/5. Scoring was not particularly rapid, but that will not bother the Australians too much, who will want to keep England on the field for as long as possible. The duo were able to capitalise on the errors of Finn and Rankin, and see off the less threatening attack Jonathan Trott and Joe Root, as the bedded in until stumps. Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry will have been playing some forward defences in their mind, with designs on batting before tea, but now they might have to keep their fielding whites on well into day two.

Where’s the spin gone?

The SCG’s reputation as a haven for spin bowlers is a thing of the past, judging by Graeme Swann’s lack of potency on day one. The days of the Sydney dust bowl have gone and Swann went at a steady three-an-over in his 22 fruitless overs. Carters and Nevill were able to rotate the strike during Swann’s spells during the day, not allowing him to settle into a rhythm. There were less full-tosses than he threw down in Hobart, but those that did pitch did not receive much help from the surface. While the Australian Ashes team do not possess a match-winning spinner of Swann’s calibre, if the series comes down to the fifth Test in Sydney, captain Cook might not be so certain to throw the ball to Swann. In the past, teams would play two spinners at the SCG, but it is hard to imagine that England will even flirt with that formula in this series.

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