Craig Overton appears to be winning the selection race ahead of the day-night Test in Adelaide, and looks set to make his debut in place of Jake Ball in the England side.
While the final decision will be left to Joe Root, the England captain, both Overton and Ball were named in a 12-man squad on the eve of the second Test.
Overton, the 23-year-old Somerset seamer, has impressed in the nets over recent days and had an extended batting session against short-pitched bowling in training on Friday evening.
Ball had something of a mixed experience in Brisbane. While he took a key wicket early in Australia’s first innings – that of David Warner – he was also the most expensive bowler, conceding 4.27 runs per over.
By contrast, James Anderson and Stuart Broad both conceded fewer than two runs an over in Australia’s first innings while Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali conceded 2.79 and 2.46 per over respectively. With one of England’s tactics being to frustrate Australia’s batsmen into errors, Ball’s relative costliness was an issue.
He could consider himself unfortunate if he misses out, though. Few batsmen are dropped after one modest game and Ball was, at times, asked to deliver spells of sustained short-pitched deliveries which resulted in a few more boundary opportunities for the batsmen.
He also found himself bowling on a pitch offering him little. The surface in Adelaide, while certainly far from the seamers’ paradise some suggest, might offer bowlers just a little more assistance. Certainly it looks likely to be quicker while a combination of the pink ball and the use of floodlights might ask a few more questions of the batsmen.
Overton might also strengthen the tail a little. While he has had a horrid run of form on the tour so far – he has been dismissed for a duck in all three of his innings to date – he has a first-class century behind him and retains ambitions to develop into a true all-rounder. The England management have stressed, however, that the respective batting merits of the pair is not relevant to the selection decision and they aim simply to pick the bowler they think will prove most effective.
Having not played international cricket, Overton might well face something of a baptism of fire if he is picked. While most Ashes Tests offer an intense atmosphere – a full house is expected on Saturday – this one could be more tense than usual due to a deteriorating relationship between the sides. While there may be a certain amount of pantomime-style playing to the crowd about some incidents, there are also a couple of players on either side who appear to genuinely dislike one another.
Meanwhile Moeen Ali came through his first spell of bowling since the Brisbane Test without any serious issues. Moeen sustained a deep cut on his spinning finger in Brisbane which compromised his performance and threatened his ability to bowl in Adelaide. While a chunk of the blistered skin did come off after a brief bowl in the nets on Friday night, he reported no pain or serious inconvenience and confirmed his ability to bowl as required in the Test.
It was noticeable, however, that Root had a longer bowl than usual and may use himself to lessen the burden on Moeen.