It’s been a common question over the last several years, but for once it’s because of a surplus of talent rather than a dearth. Assuming everyone is fit (and there are question marks about Chris Tremlett and Stuart Broad) the contenders for probably three (maybe four) fast bowling places are James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett, Steve Finn and Graham Onions. Anderson is guaranteed his place and Broad, if fit, probably is too. Bresnan and Tremlett have matched each other with excellent performances in Australia and at home against India. Finn is one of the fastest bowlers to take fifty Test wickets and Onions had a very good start to his career before being injured.
Onions is probably the least likely to get a game considering for how long he’s been out of the side. Finn is a wicket taker, but an expensive one which doesn’t fit in with the ethos of the side. One of the major improvements that Strauss and Flower have implemented is to cut off runs and bore batsmen out, and Finn tends to haemorrhage runs whilst taking wickets. (He still has a fairly low average, but a very high economy rate.) It’s probably a shootout then between Tremlett and Bresnan. Bresnan has an edge in that he is almost an all rounder. We saw against India his ability to score lower order runs. There’s a possibility that they could both play; England have been obstinate in only picking four bowlers, but on the slow pitches of the UAE England might finally change the balance of the side. One imagines that a fifth bowler would probably be a spinner (probably Monty Panesar), but it’s not guaranteed.
I would actually go down a different route to what I think Flower and co will. If I were picking the attack I’d go with five bowlers, but only one spinner. I like Monty, of course (everyone does), but he’s been out of form for a while and I’m not sure he is going to be effective. I’d rather see four quicks who can operate opposite Swann. I quite like the bowling of Finn, but for the UAE and Sri Lanka I’d leave him and Tremlett out. They are both tall hit-the-deck bowlers and I don’t think that will be very effective on the slower pitches. I’d definitely give Bresnan the third quick bowling place. His bowling may be better suited to English pitches, but I think he can prosper in the UAE. His style is not too dissimilar to Junaid Khan. They both bowl quickly and accurately and can swing the ball late. Khan is probably the better bowler, but it was not thought that he would succeed in the UAE. For a similar reason I’d give Onions a chance, at least for the first Test. He won’t get as much swing as he would in England, but he is accurate and will pitch the ball up which I think will work better than banging it in. My bowling unit (assuming fitness) would thus be Anderson, Broad, Bresnan, Onions and Swann.