There can’t have been many England warm-up games that have generated quite so much interest as their encounter in Alice Springs this week.
The opposition might have only been Cricket Australia’s Chairman’s XI, but following their 381-run defeat at the Gabba, and Jonathan Trott’s well-documented departure, all eyes were on England in the unlikely setting of Oz’s unforgiving Outback.
With the temperature reaching highs of 39 degrees, the heat was on England’s second string in more ways than one, as the likes of Steven Finn, Boyd Rankin and Gary Ballance attempted to stake their claims for a start in the second Test, while first team regulars Joe Root and Matt Prior attempted to play themselves back into some form.
Sadly for rested skipper Alistair Cook, only Balance offered any positivity with the bat as the match petered out into a draw, while a late wicket for Rankin proved the only impact of note from any of England’s misfiring quicks. Instead it was left to spin duo Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, who shared seven wickets.
So while Balance’s knock of 54 in England’s first innings of 212-7 put him at the front of the queue to bolster the tourists’ batting line-up in the absence of Trott, Root’s disappointing performance as opener (22 and 1) suggested he may not be ready to inherit the number three spot, while Prior’s latest failure with the bat (19) showed that England’s batsmen could also do with more time at the crease before heading to Adelaide.
Ironically, with Finn, Boyd and all-rounder Ben Stokes failing to strengthen their case, England’s one shining light with the cherry emanated from the rubble of Brisbane, where Tim Bresnan stayed behind with the Performance squad to register figures of 4-31 against a Queensland XI.
Playing his first game since a stress fracture of the back at the end of the summer’s Ashes series in England, Bresnan also managed 57 not out with the bat in the first innings, and bowled some textbook death bowling to ensure the hosts weren’t able to see off England’s youngsters as the game ended drawn.
Although Adelaide was initially expected to come too soon for the Yorkshire man to make a return, his confident performance may yet persuade the England selectors to take a punt earlier than anticipated, given their desperation to get a dependable, steady-headed and popular figure back in the side as soon as possible. England are now 5/4 to retain the Ashes, with Australia 4/7 to reclaim the urn following a seven-year drought.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.