This Ashes series, which is the second five-match series in a few short months, and will undoubtedly be taxing on a largely unchanged bowling attack, has seen only Stuart Broad make any real inroads into the Australian batting. He has eased his way into second place on the wickets chart with fourteen at 25.21. More worryingly, though, the rest of the English bowling averages read thus:
James Anderson: 7 wickets @ 58.42 (3 Tests)
Graeme Swann: 7 wickets @ 80.00 (3 Tests)
Ben Stokes: 5 wickets @ 47.00 (2 Tests)
Chris Tremlett: 4 wickets @ 30.00 (1 Test)
Tim Bresnan: 3 wickets @ 44.66 (1 Test)
Monty Panesar: 2 wickets @ 99.00 (1 Test)
Joe Root: 0 wickets for 90 (3 Tests)
Steven Finn: 11 wickets @ 33.36 (2 first-class)
Boyd Rankin: 7 wickets @ 33.57 (2 first-class)
Anderson and Swann, in all honesty, would be dropped from most sides on the weight of recent performances. The last time Anderson looked properly potent was at Trent Bridge in July; Graeme Swann has been equally toothless since Phil Hughes was taken off the menu. They should be rested, dropped, rotated - choose your favourite term. Whether or not they make it back into the side should depend upon whether or not they have the energy and desire in six months time.
Which leaves the attack for the third and fourth Tests to pretty much pick itself: Chris Tremlett, Boyd Rankin, Steven Finn and Monty Panesar. None of these four played in the last Test, most likely for the reason that they have been the least impressive bowlers in the tour party. I can't blame the management team for their reluctance, especially given that the Boyd Rankin and Chris Tremlett's last two years of Championship cricket combined don't even begin to live up to Graham Onions' 2013, but I think they might as well give them a go. After all, they are probably pretty fresh given that they've been mostly netting and carrying drinks.
They are also statistically the best fit bowlers left at England's disposal. Steven Finn, for instance; he's erratic, but he gets wickets. Aside from Broad, he has the most of any bowler on the tour with eleven at a competent average. Boyd Rankin has been less incisive, but his treatment of the Aussies in the white-ball cricket in the summer was encouraging, as is the fact that he has the ability to push the speedometer into the red zone on a regular basis. Tremlett got castigated after the first Test for being a trundler. He was, though, a tall and fairly accurate trundler who took four wickets. Finally, if the English batsmen are troubled by Mitchell Johnson's bouncers, who better to deal with them than Monty Panesar?
And thus completes my fourth Test line-up of: Alastair Cook, Michael Carberry, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar, Boyd Rankin.
The trouble is, there aren't a whole heap of door-banging contenders. Near the top of the list should be Toby Roland-Jones, the Middlesex seamer who takes his first-class wickets at 22 apiece. He is tall and brisk, although not even close to express, and is basically Graham Onions with the added bonus of being the right side of thirty.
Also at Middlesex is James Harris, who has been groomed for England duty from a young age. He moved away from Glamorgan in the quest for Division One cricket (and perhaps for a more fashionable county), and is generally regarded as a future Test player. But he is another of the fast-medium generation that seems to be mass-produced by a generation of age-group coaches who obsess over finding the next 82 mph, straight-run-upped seam prodigy.
If you're looking for bowlers with a little more pace to offer, then Stuart Meaker, Chris Jordan and Jamie Overton enter the frame. Overton is probably a couple of years away from being ready, and hasn't quite got the first-class numbers behind him, while Chris Jordan is yet to prove that one season of pleasant numbers hints at the lift-off of a career, or just a purple patch. Meaker is fast, hostile, and prefers the red ball, and might not be far away from a return to the England set-up, this time wearing whites. He would be another on the list of South African born Test players, but you probably already know my thoughts on that.
Having seen the incredible success of Mitchell Johnson, though, Geoff Miller might make the search for a left-armed spearhead into his main priority, and the two men he is most likely to turn to are to be found in the Essex dressing room. Young Reece Topley is one of them, the southpaw skyscraper who is still yet to turn twenty. In the Under-19 World Cup, he was clocking tasty speeds, while his bounce and accuracy proved too much for his youthful opposition. Tymal Mills, meanwhile, struggles to break into the Essex side from time to time, owing to inconsistency. However, he is so frighteningly fast that, as part of a five-man attack that includes Stokes, he might just be worth the gamble.
What about spinners? I have no idea. Simon Kerrigan would be the obvious option if his brief sojourn with the three lions hadn't fallen flatter than any pancake. Graeme Swann looks spent. Monty Panesar might be a safe bet if it wasn't for his personal issues and lack of wickets. All in all, if I had to pick a spinner, I would go to Hampshire for Danny Briggs, who is more of a stock bowler than a strike bowler, but one who has all the raw ingredients to do a decent job for a while.
Whatever direction the selectors choose, it looks like we might need to work harder to bowl sides out in future, and some inspired leadership would be awfully useful.
Tomorrow: Cook, Broad and the leadership vacuum.