With Steve Harmison rated as "extremely doubtful" for the first Test by David Graveney, and Messrs Jones and Flintoff still far from consideration, England's pace-bowling resources, yet again, appear stretched, with only Matthew Hoggard a certainty for the next few Tests.
Ryan Sidebottom, who took 16 wickets at under 20 against the West Indies, should also be considered a definite pick - for now at least. Though some worry about his lack of pace – and, subsequently, lack of penetration on docile tracks – Sidebottom offers genuine variety, in that he is a left-armer, and, crucially, control. The Notts bowler surely deserves at least two Tests to prove he can be a threat against good batsmen on flat tracks.
James Anderson has been bowling a lot better in recent weeks (though he did go for 78 in the 2nd ODI against the West Indies) and was today named in the 13-man match squad. In the long-term, he should aim to be a Hoggard with extra pace – but he remains far too erratic. Although he has a strong case for selection, which will be boosted by his terrific bowling (6/79 in the match) during England’s win in India last year, Anderson does not offer anything greatly different to Hoggard and, equally significantly, would probably bat at 11.
The other man in the squad, Stuart Broad is just 21, but he has already impressed with his big-match temperament and penetrating bowling, as when taking 3/20 in the recent ODIs, even being compared, a little prematurely, to Glenn McGrath. He is a 6ft7 beanpole – so his enormous bounce offers a completely different threat – and bowled very well to take 5/76 against India for England Lions. Crucially, Broad has sufficient batting aptitude to bat at number eight, and has scored 50s against the last two English tourists. But, like so many young English bowlers, Broad can prove extremely expensive, and has an economy rate of 3.94 in the Championship this campaign.
Another huge bowler, Chris Tremlett, also played for England Lions against India, and had Sachin Tendulkar twice dropped. Tremlett has all the attributes to be an excellent quick, and a very good first-class record to boot, but he is perceived to have a lackadaisical attitude, and was poor in the CB Series. At 25, his time should be now, but he has only averaged 37 for Hampshire in the Championship this campaign and, though he averages almost 20 with the bat in his career, does not merit a Test debut.
Liam Plunkett played three Tests against the West Indies earlier in the summer and, though occasionally lethal when he gets it right (which he did in the CB Series), Plunkett is very erratic, often causing extras to be amongst the top scorers. At 22, the Durham quick should have a long international career ahead of him, but there are problems with his action (a victim of excess biomechanics) and England, thankfully, look to have realised he would be best served with a run in county cricket.
His Durham colleague Graham Onions has been talked of all season as a potential England bowler, but can prove horribly expensive and was dropped for the game at Surrey recently. However the pacey seamer is regarded as a wicket-taker and has a very aggressive approach, as he proved in taking three wickets against the Indian tourists.
A wildcard who could be considered is Sidebottom’s Nottinghamshire team-mate Charlie Shreck. A late developer, Shreck only made his county debut at 25 and is now 29, but, on form, deserves to be selected, having taken 40 Championship wickets at just 23 this season. He is no innocuous seamer, either; Shreck is 6ft7 and has an outstanding career strike-rate of 47. But, though he is experienced and in fantastic form, his status as the ultimate rabbit will probably preclude his selection
It is not hard to notice the pattern here: there are a lot of young and promising bowlers who generate a good pace and are renowned as “wicket-takers”, but there is one central problem: they are all very expensive. Indeed, of those under 29, Anderson has the best economy rate this season, a not-so-miserly 3.32 in the Championship. England would probably be best served with someone who can both reduce the size of their tail and go some way to replacing Harmison’s pace, bounce and hostility to supplement Hoggard and Sidebottom in the attack. The best option, hence, appears Stuart Broad: young, aggressive and with a fearless temperament, he should make his Test debut on Thursday.