Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points as England win final warm-up match
Ashes 2013-14: Four talking point as England win their final warm-up match with seven wickets to spare in Sydney. Stuart Clarke reports
A win is a win
After draws in the first two warm-up matches of the tour, England will be pleased to get a win under their belts before the main event starts next week. Despite the fact that they were facing a less-than experienced bowling attack, the English batsmen all helped themselves to time in the middle, with Ian Bell the only member of the top six to not pass 50 in the match. But even Bell looked as if he was comfortable at the crease and ready for the Tests, with solid scores of 35 and 33*. Michael Carberry made up for his low first innings knock by scoring a fluent and fast half-century, and Jonny Bairstow had an excellent morning behind the stumps to increase his, and everyone’s, confidence that he can replace Matt Prior if needed. England will have to translate this form into a strong performance in the pressure-cooker environment of the Gabba on Thursday against a much better string of bowlers – and there comes the real test.
Finn, Tremlett or Rankin?
The debate of England’s third seamer, which has been dragged out for all four days of this match, was not properly answered on day four. In fact, it seems to be raging as strong as ever. Australia captain Michael Clarke did a bit of prodding earlier in the week by suggesting that he expects Chris Tremlett to be bowling to him in Brisbane, and on the basis of this match, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin probably did not do enough to prove captain Clarke wrong. Finn’s remarkable swings in consistency were on full show at the SCG, where he picked up match figures of 8/191 from 49.3 overs. In comparison, England’s best bowler, Stuart Broad, finished up with 6/69 off 40 overs. But Finn does have the knack for producing the odd unplayable ball which can get top-class batsmen out, like he showed in this match with the wickets of Ed Cowan and Callum Ferguson. Clarke’s second-guessing of the England line-up could have been a double bluff on his part, playing down the fact that to the Australians, it doesn’t matter which player is selected as the third seamer. However, you have to believe that on the basis of the 2010/11 Ashes series, the Aussies would not relish facing up to Tremlett for a prolonged period, with the mixture of pace, bounce and the sheer size of the man himself. Finn does not cut such an imposing presence and his propensity to go for more than four-an-over would mean that Australia could be able to score enough runs to make the wickets he picks up almost irrelevant.
The Aussie spin saviour could be coming…
James Muirhead made his first-class debut earlier in 2013 for Victoria against South Australia and had to wait 11 months to get his second at the SCG. As mentioned on day one, the Sydney ground is no longer the haven for spinners that it used to be, but the 20-year-old Muirhead showed sparks of promise that could stir the nation into the subdued frenzy that occurs when discussing any potential heir to Shane Warne. The young leg spinner is following a remarkably similar path to the top as Warne, playing as he does for St Kilda CC and the Victoria state team, just like his idol. He even exudes the confidence of Warne as well as the desire to bait the English whenever he can. “It was good to get Bell out because I knew Warney always got him out for fun,” he said after day two. He even enjoyed being hit for six by Kevin Pietersen, especially as he tempted him into one shot too many a few balls later to snap up his fourth first-class wicket. He finished at the SCG with figures of 6/181, including a spell in the second innings where he found some real turn from the pitch, and walked away with the scalps of Pietersen, Bell, Alastair Cook and Carberry to add to his resume, which will undoubtedly grow over the next few years.
And on to Brisbane
Whoever England pick in their team next Thursday, the Australians will hopefully put up a better fight than they did this summer. With a little bit of stability in the coaching set-up and the top six batsmen knowing their roles, there should be more consistency, although question marks also hang over their bowling attack. They face a similar problem to England when it comes to deciding who to play alongside Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. Mitchell Johnson has been recalled to the squad for the first Test, and the England fans will fondly remember his struggles in the 2010/11 series, while James Faulkner did not show his full potential with the ball in England this year. Tasmanian George Bailey is in the squad on the back of a remarkable one-day series in India, but his sub-40 first-class average could play against him in the final selection meeting. And Shane Watson is retained in the squad, despite a hamstring injury that will likely stop him from bowling his miserly medium-pacers.
Prediction: England win by four wickets, a ton for captain Cook and eight wickets in the match for Anderson.