England's plan to unleash the wrath of their fast bowlers at Perth and spread fear about the land backfired spectacularly on their first day of cricket against a makeshift team of second-stringers. Spearheaded by a fine hundred from Chris Lynn, a guest player from Queensland, England's bowlers were cut, pulled and driven to distraction as ring rust turned to full-blown corrosion of their confidence.
Even the wickets that fell, as the WACA Chairman's side racked up 369 for four on the opening day, could not be registered as a triumph after the home side's top four all passed 50. James Anderson has earned the right to ease into an Ashes tour and he did just that, being canny without ever looking that dangerous.
But for the big three, Steve Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin, all looking to win that one available bowling slot, the head-to-head proved anything but inspiring and all but Rankin finished the day wicketless. So impressive during the one-day series against Australia two months ago, Rankin struggled the most early on, his radar so awry that he sent down a beamer and four full tosses in his first 10 overs, along with the sundry long hops all the bowlers were guilty of. He improved during his second spell and dismissed Lynn in his third, though the batsman's cut shot could just as easily have flown for four as in to Michael Carberry's hands at gully. Tremlett, who was given the new ball with Anderson, and Finn, fared little better, their attempts to impress producing a pot pourri of long hops and half-volleys.
Tremlett said there was no need to panic, at least not yet. "The pitch wasn't quite what we expected, being slower than usual, and it was a frustrating day," he said. "As a unit we were pretty inconsistent. We all showed some good signs but I think we were all a bit rusty and struggled with our lengths, being a bit too short and a bit too full at times. As an overall picture we were a bit off the radar.
"But I don't think we are concerned, as it's the first day and a massive jump in workload for all of us. We've only been doing about five overs a day in the last week. We knew it was going to be tough but if you are bowling badly just a few days before the Test that is when you are going to be panicking. The first day is the hardest but that's why we've come out here a month in advance to get this preparation." The lack of control from his bowlers gave Matt Prior, captaining England in Alastair Cook's absence with a back injury, a challenging conundrum on his leadership debut, with Cook riding out with the drinks cart, presumably to offer advice if not sympathy.
Cook was later seen in the nets and gym doing some light training, so the signs are that he will be back at the helm of the good ship England for the match with Australia A in Hobart. England's complaints that the current side would not be strong enough look silly now, but in case it all went wrong, Cricket Australia had already beefed up the New South Wales side they will play in Sydney, calling it an Invitation XI, and adding Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja and Phillip Hughes.
There could be an element of connivance in those selections. The word is that Australia's selectors are set to pick an exclusively right-handed top order, aside for the two openers Chris Rogers and David Warner, and most of the batsmen beefing up that New South Wales team are left-handers. Australia's likely side all seem to be running into form. Rogers was among the runs yesterday, making 95, a day after Michael Clarke made 88 for New South Wales. Fawad Ahmed, the Pakistani-born asylum seeker, has also made a late claim for the spinner's place in the Test squad with career-best figures of six for 68 for Victoria against Western Australia.
England will not be worrying about their Test opponents yet, just focusing on getting their A game into shape. Last time, when they won 3-1, their pace-bowling plans were to frustrate Australia by conceding fewer than three an over by bowling "dry" around an imaginary fifth stump. It worked a treat but yesterday only Anderson managed that as the other seamers conceded four to five an over, which the young shavers from the home side understandably tucked into.
"I wouldn't say we were intimidated but we were excited and it was good to see some of the young blokes take it up to the Poms," said Mitchell Marsh, who made 58 for the WACA Chairman's XI. "We were excited to prove a point, as all the top six are pushing for places in the state side. We went out with positive intent to put pressure on their bowlers."