The England selectors will on Monday the 22nd June announce an extended training squad of up to 17 players for the upcoming Ashes series before deciding on the final 12 or 13 man squad which will go into battle in Cardiff on July 8th. Here we’ll have a look at the probable candidates for the squad, starting with what is likely to be the Test XI.
1. Andrew Strauss – Captain, opening batsman and therefore, along with Pietersen, will be the wicket the Aussies will covet the most. He needs to continue the good form he has shown against the West Indies of late and stamp some authority on England’s innings much as he and Trescothick did on day one at Edgbaston in 2005. Slip catching will be vital.
2. Alastair Cook – Often accused of getting out too easily after making a start, despite having an average of 45 with 9 hundreds and 19 fifties to his name and being the youngest English batsmen to reach 1000, 2000 and 3000 Test match runs. At twenty four he has one Ashes series behind him already and, if he can play to his potential this summer, he could end up as England’s star performer. A much improved fielder which will be crucial in the cordon or under the helmet at short leg.
3. Ravi Bopara – Cook’s Essex counterpart, Bopara is having his second crack at Test Match cricket after a disastrous first attempt in Sri Lanka. His fortunes this time around could not have been more different and for the first time since another Essex man announced his second coming in 1997, England should have found a genuine number three for the long term.
4. Kevin Pietersen – No player on either side needs a special series quite as much as this man. He’ll want to put the first half of 2009 behind him and show everyone that Kevin Pietersen is still a world class batsman. An article in a recent free magazine hailed KP as “the greatest English batsman of all time.” Nonsense of course, but he has the potential to be one of the best ever. He still has a lot to do before that happens though, and needs a big series this summer to silence his critics.
5. Paul Collingwood – Steady but unspectacular batsman, steady but unspectacular bowler and excellent fielder, although I’m beginning to lose count of the number of times I’ve heard commentators say, “Ooh, he doesn’t drop many” immediately after he has put down a catch. One of the, if not the only, stand out performer on the ill fated 2006/2007 tour, Colly may well have to once again be the backbone of England’s batting effort if the flair players at three and four fail.
6. Matt Prior – Will go in at number six and could just about hold a place there without his keeping, which will itself be under intense scrutiny this summer. Geraint Jones just about got away with a catalogue of mistakes in 2005, Matt Prior might not be so lucky in 2009. James Foster’s peerless display behind the stumps in the Twenty 20 World Cup should have served as a wake up call.
7. Andrew Flintoff – For a long time following the 2005 Ashes I was of the opinion that the England side looked better without Flintoff. That is no longer the case. If fit he has to play and will bat at seven. We just have to hope he acts as talisman and not a disruption, and the opposition see fiery Fred not friendly Fred. Even if his batting form continues to desert him his bowling and catching and the effect he should have in lifting the home crowd make him worth his place. Don’t expect a repeat of his 2005 heroics though, that Freddie has gone.
8. Stuart Broad – A rapidly improving young cricketer, this series will be a big challenge for the youngster but one that he looks like he is ready to meet head on. His contribution with the bat at number eight could be invaluable.
9. Graeme Swann – Moved above Panesar in the pecking order during the West Indies tour and hasn’t looked back. Now more or less established as England’s number one spinner, Swann offers more guile and variation than Monty, can add useful runs from nine and is a very competent fielder in the deep or in the gully.
10. James Anderson – “The Burnley Express” will lead England’s bowling attack this summer and go head to head with Mitchell Johnston for the bragging rights as number one pace bowler in the series. At only 26 Jimmy has already been around for what seems like forever and if the ball swings for him he will be England’s main weapon.
11. Graeme Onions – Surely did enough in his first two Test matches to merit inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Sidebottom and Harmison. Not much to say other than “more of the same please.”
12. Tim Bresnan – Deserved his call up to the Test side for the West Indies and was unlucky not to get more of an opportunity to shine. Should remain in the squad as back up for Flintoff. Only other genuine all rounder in the squad, although as yet untested at this level.
13. Ian Bell – Started the domestic season with a bang but has faded away of late. Should find himself in the squad of seventeen but is up against competition from Shah, Vaughan and Key, probably in that order. There may be room for Bell and one of the latter three, if the selectors go for one keeper. If not, Bell should just pip the others.
14. Adil Rashid – The much hyped Yorkshire youngster has been spoken about as a Test prospect for two years now, but wary of over exposure too young has been held back. It seems now the time is right for him to step up and while he may not play in a Test match this summer, if Swann gets injured or loses form he could be given his debut.
15. Steve Harmison – One of only four players to have passed the 50 wicket mark in first class cricket this year, reports are that Harmison is back to his hostile best. The last thing the Australians want is a fit and firing Steve Harmison with a new ball in his hand so don’t rule him out, although at this stage he is in the reserve list behind his Durham teammate Onions.
16. Ryan Sidebottom – Sidebottom’s inclusion perhaps makes the reserve list bowler heavy, but the three are so different they all need to be in the selector’s thoughts. Spin from Rashid, raw pace and bounce from Harmison and Sidebottom comes in offering a different angle of attack from left arm over the wicket and brings swing. Perhaps question marks over his fitness for the five day stuff, but should be included.
17. James Foster* – This is a tough one. Will they go for Foster to keep Prior on his toes, or will they play safe and have an extra batsman? I’d like to see Foster given a shot as if Prior doesn’t score runs he shouldn’t be in the side, simple as that, and this man should come in.
*It could be argued that the squad listed above is perhaps a batsman light. On the assumption that Ian Bell will be named, that leaves four likely candidates for the last remaining place should the selectors decide to go for that option rather than the extra keeper.
Owais Shah – Has probably had his last chance for now, but will be on the fringes and may take the last place ahead of the candidates below as the “safe” option.
Robert Key – I would love to see Robert Key be given another chance at Test cricket, but sadly can’t see it happening. For whatever reason he seems to be English cricket’s forgotten man.
Michael Vaughan -Very unlikely you’d think, but stranger things have happened. Remember Darren Pattinson?
Ian Blackwell – Watch out. Since his move to the North East Blackwell has been on fire and offers something with the ball too. If the selectors are feeling adventurous you never know.
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