• Australia XI v England XI

England tour veering off course

George Dobell
November 30, 2013
Boyd Rankin (furthest left) and Steve Finn have done little to oust Chris Tremlett from the third seamer's spot in Adelaide © Getty Images

England XI 212 for 7 dec (Ballance 55) and 47 for 1 drew with CA Chairman's XI 254 for 8 dec (Swann 4-56)

It says much for England's lacklustre performance in Alice Springs that there were times when it was hard to tell which team was the No. 2 ranked Test side and which was populated with players as green as the lush outfield at Traeger Park.

Perhaps it was natural that England produced such a less than intense performance in this match. This two-day game was, in reality, little more than a practice session and some of England's players might have been understandably reluctant to fully extend themselves a few days ahead of the second Test.

But there were several players for whom this game presented an opportunity. The fringe batsmen were fighting to earn the final place in the top six; the fast bowlers were fighting for the position of third seamer. Even Monty Panesar might have felt he had a chance of staking a claim for a place in the side.

Yet few players made persuasive cases for their advancement and, as England head into the second Test on Thursday, they do so with an uncomfortable number of awkward questions to answer. Thrashed in Brisbane and shocked by the departure of Jonathan Trott, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that England's tour is veering alarmingly off course.

Whereas in 2010-11 they had a settled team - Steven Finn was the only man dropped during that series - this time they have doubts about two of the top three, their No. 6 and their third seamer. For a side that prides itself on planning and preparation, that is an uncomfortable place to be.

A couple of issues were resolved, though. On the evidence of this game, it seems most unlikely that Finn or Boyd Rankin - both of whom were out-bowled by 21-year-old Simon Mackin, a man without a first-class appearance - will be considered for Adelaide.

Tim Bresnan will be assessed by England's medical staff on Sunday and, unless his readiness is thought to be beyond reasonable doubt, Chris Tremlett will surely remain the third seamer in the second Test. Both Rankin and Finn bowled themselves out of contention in Alice Springs. Finn, a shadow of the menacing fast bowler that he has shown glimpses he can be, may well have bowled himself out of contention for the series.

Having wasted the new ball through a surfeit of short balls - the Chairman XI's openers were hardly required to play a shot in the first 40 minutes of play - the pair were thrashed around the ground by 20-year-old tailender, James Muirhead. On a brutally hot day, England looked weary and fed-up some time before the Chairman's XI earned a 42-run first innings lead.

It would be a huge risk to pick Monty Panesar, too. While his bowling improved after a rusty start - his first delivery for England since the Auckland Test in March was a full toss - he looked nervous and fallible in the field. To plunge him into the unforgiving atmosphere of an Ashes Test would verge on the reckless.

At least Graeme Swann enjoyed a decent day. Against batsmen determined to attack him from the start, he claimed three wickets to failed attempts to hit him over the top and then had 16-year-old Jake Doran, who had earlier pulled Panesar to the boundary, taken at short-leg.

A couple of the Chairman's XI players will have done their reputations no harm. Steven Cazzulino and Ashton Turner were patient, Josh Lalor - a player of Aboriginal descent - attacked effectively, while Marcus Harris, who punished Rankin and Finn with a series of cuts and pulls, looked a fine player who could go on to enjoy a decent career.

But Mackin is the one to watch. He dismissed Joe Root with a brute of a ball that reared from just back of a length and took the glove on its way to the keeper. It was a wicket that exposed not just the poor length of England's bowlers, but the trouble Root has in dealing with the pace and bounce of these wickets. Gary Ballance was also beaten outside off stump by Macklin and looked relieved to reach stumps, though Michael Carberry acquitted himself pretty well.

This match was never just about the result. And, in terms of spreading the reach of the game, it should probably be deemed a success: nearly 3,500 spectators attended and the England players took the time to coach groups of local kids. In terms of preparation for the second Test, however, England found little to reassure them.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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