England trusts Trott to get the runs
So after the endless debate and rumours of which England batsmen would be replaced after the Headingley debacle, the axe only fell on Ravi Bopara. Ian Bell, who some thought would also be guillotined, survived and will bat at three for the crunch winner takes all final Test at the Oval. This despite his poor record against Australia (566 runs in 12 Tests against Australia at 24.60) and at number 3, where Bell has yet to score a Test match century and only averages a touch over 30.
With probable number one choice Marcus Trescothick ruling out a reversal of his retirement from international cricket and Kent captain Robert Key again being ignored, the selectors chose the uncapped Warwickshire batsman Jonathan Trott to replace Bopara. Despite what amounted to a media campaign calling for his selection, it seems that the return of 39 year old Mark Ramprakash was never seriously considered by the selectors.
It is certainly a brave (some would say foolhardy) decision to select the untried Trott for his debut in the deciding Test of an Ashes series. The selectors obviously hope that 28 year old Trott will rise to the occasion like his fellow South African Kevin Pietersen did with his series clinching 158 in the final Test of the infamous 2005 Ashes. Trott is certainly in a rich vein of form with 1,013 runs in the County Championship this season at an average of 92.09. His 121 against Nottinghamshire last week, in which incidentally Bell also scored 126, probably sealed Trott’s place ahead of Key.
Elsewhere in the squad, a nation’s prayers have been answered with Andrew Flintoff, who missed the match at Headingley due to his troublesome knee, already passed fit to play. Flintoff, always one with a knack of rising to the big occasion, could not have a grander stage in which to wave a farewell to Test cricket. England hopes it will be a joyous one.
With the return of Flintoff, there will be at least one change to the bowling attack, who lets not forget were just as bad as the batsmen in the calamitous 4th Test. Once again the selectors have looked to cover all bases and will select four bowlers from James Anderson, presumably recovered from his hamstring twinge, Stuart Broad, Graham Onions, Steve Harmison, Ryan Sidebottom and the spinners Graham Swann and Monty Panesar.
Although Panesar has been picked to provide the option of playing two spinners, given his own poor form (just 10 wickets this summer at over 70) plus the failed experiment to play two spinners at Cardiff, it is safe to assume Monty is only in the squad to provide cover for Swann. So, with Anderson and Broad likely to keep their places, it seems that the final place in the XI will be between Onions, Harmison and Sidebottom. A case can be made for each one of them.
Onions has done relatively well in his first Ashes series and has the lowest runs per wicket (30.3) of all of the England bowlers. Harmison has a good record at The Oval, and is likely to consistently trouble the Australian batsman with the extra bounce that is traditionally found at this ground. Sidebottom, as a left armer, would give Andrew Strauss another option and perhaps more control than either Harmison or Onions, who were both expensive at Headingley. Of the three, Harmison is the most likely match-winner (and conversely the most likely to put in the worst performance), so I would gamble on him. Strauss and Coach Andy Flower are more likely to stick with Onions.
Whichever XI is finally selected for what is perhaps the biggest Test match ever, there will be a number who will be playing for their places on the plane for the winter series in South Africa – Bell, Harmison and Trott (perhaps unfairly for a debutant) to name but three.
So the XI, who will start at the Oval, let us not forget, with a chance to regain the Ashes are likely to be:
Strauss, Cook, Bell, Trott, Collingwood, Prior, Flintoff, Broad, Swann, Anderson, and Onions/Harmison.
Their destiny and that of the immediate future of English cricket awaits.
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