Of all the years of all the centuries of all this planet’s chequered history, 2010 wasn’t that great, what with the Haitan earthquake, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the death of Gary Coleman. On the other hand, Kara Tointon won Strictly Come Dancing and Simon Katich was dismissed for a diamond duck.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, can we just reassure you that we’re not going to harp on about the 2010/11 Ashes all winter long? Because we’re not. We may mention it once or twice, but we’re generally going to avoid talking about 98ao or 517/1 or David Gower’s pained scream or the sprinkler or any of that jazz. We’re not even giving it the status of a classic series (after all, we need to keep some ideas for the long week between the end of the winter’s cricket and the start of the summer). But inevitably thoughts will turn to that series, because, being just three years ago rather than the usual four, its narrative is highly pertinent to the series about to start. Not least because so many of the personnel remain involved. What is arguably the most relevant of all the aspects of that series was the performance of the fast bowlers – as a unit as well as individually. To refresh memories: Finn, Broad and Anderson played the first two games; Tremlett replaced the injured Broad at Perth; Finn was dropped for Bresnan at Melbourne and the same trio played at Sydney. The result was that each contributed and it was seen as a triumph for those who made the decisions – notwithstanding that Broad was injured rather than dropped.
Since then, the question that pretty much always gets asked ahead of a series (or indeed a match) is whether Finn or Bresnan will be the fourth bowler. This is something that even we grow tired of. Everyone knows the pros and cons of each man. Cut open Finn and inside of him will be the word ‘inconsistent’ like a stick of good-looking rock. Bresnan meanwhile, already has a gravestone on which the epitaph ‘can hold a bat, bowls dry’ is enscribed. Now though, things are different.
There is a case to be made that England should repeat what they did three years ago – because as we all know, history repeats itself, doesn’t it? Well it does in the case of 51allout and Kara Tointon’s legal team. However blindingly trying to recreate 2010/11 like some kind of Sealed Knot version of the Battle of Naseby would be both impossible and naive. Indeed the waters of selection are muddied by the effluent discharge that is Bresnan’s back injury.
So England are faced with a new dilemma – one that is both more interesting and more complicated than the old hoary one about Bressie or Finny. They’ve now got Rankin and Tremlett to add to the mix. Although Rankin proved us doubters wrong with a good performance in the ODIs last September, we really don’t feel he is Test quality. He could cause some batsmen trouble, but in our view is unlikely to be able to bowl consistent spells all day, over five days. He’s just not that good. Which might not be a problem if Australia continually get bowled out for bobbins. Conversely, we all know that Tremlett was Test-class, but since his comeback from injury has seemed a little bit diminished. Whereas Finn is clearly talented, but needs to find his rhytym and consistency, but judging by the opening tour game and the fact he missed the match against Australia A, he might be the first one to be omitted.
So who knows what the selectors will decide for the Gabba? But hey, the series is five matches long. It’d be silly to call for Finn at the Gabba and Adelaide, replaced by Tremlett at Perth and Bresnan in the final two games, solely on the basis that that is what more-or-less occurred three years, but it would also be sensible to take each game as it comes, select horses for courses and approach the series as if it’s a marathon not a sprint (other cliches are available). Whether England retain the Ashes or not shouldn’t depend on who their third-choice seam bowler is. But in a scenario where the two sides are likely to be more evenly-matched than they have been since 2009, the role of Rankin or Tremlett or Finn (or indeed Bresnan) should not be considered lightly.
So will 2013 be as memorable as 2010/11? Well much depends on which lovely lady wins Strictly. But if you ask us, with Finn not having had much game time in which to hone his rhythm, and Rankin being a bit rubbish, we would opt for Tremlett to play at Brisbane. And Sophie in the dancing.