England Test squad chance to reinvent

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Old 05-Jun-2014
England Test squad chance to reinvent

At the height of England's success under Andy Flower the announcement of Test squads became a pretty mundane affair. Except for the occasional retirement or injury there was rarely much conjecture over the names that would be revealed.

The situation now is much different. The squad that James Whitaker will name on Wednesday morning - the first time Whitaker has named a Test party since taking over from Geoff Miller as national selector - has just four certainties that would be included by anyone asked for a squad: Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

Those four are the senior core of the England team now. The names that will go alongside them have been much-debated during the opening weeks of an intriguing domestic season. Arguably, not since Duncan Fletcher took over with England rock bottom of the Test rankings in 1999 has there been such room for reinvention.

So far, when it has come to the limited-overs formats, the selectors have hardly ripped up the script: the only new cap this season has been left-armer Harry Gurney. But the Test side could feature four new faces - not since 1993, against Australia at Trent Bridge, have England handed out four debuts in the same Tests - and is very likely to have three.

It is probably worth a reminder of the last Test XI which took the field, on January 3 in Sydney, which also included three debutants: Cook, Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Ballance, Stokes, Bairstow, Broad, Borthwick, Anderson, Rankin.

Two are ruled out straightaway, for different reasons: Kevin Pietersen's ejection and Boyd Rankin's physical and mental problems which began during the Ashes, although it is heartening to see him back for Warwickshire. Scott Borthwick, too, is unlikely to be considered despite his recent double hundred.

Being the man in possession of the keeping gloves, Jonny Bairstow can feel rightly aggrieved if Matt Prior is unfit and he still loses his spot. There is a feeling that a calculated gamble will be taken on Prior if he does not report any reaction in his Achilles problem following his Championship outing against Nottinghamshire where he kept for 172 overs. It would be a significant risk, but it has been made clear how desperate the management are to have Prior back.

If his problems persist, or recur, then his alternative will give an insight into whether England are feeling pragmatic or brave. There has been growing support for James Foster, 34 years old, to fill the role. One of the outstanding glovemen in the county game he would not let anyone down - and is a better batsman than often given credit for - but to include Jos Buttler (notwithstanding his dozy Mankading) would show an embracing of youth, adventure and dynamism. It would also energise the public, so long as they accept the occasional fumble with the gloves as he has only kept in 21 of his 51 first-class matches.

Still with plenty of places to fill, Chris Jordan will be included and there should be space for one more fast bowler. Liam Plunkett, consistently quick and aggressive for Yorkshire this season, is in with a very good chance. Steven Finn is not yet ready for a return.

Spin bowling? This is tricky. Worthy specialists are in short supply, especially as Monty Panesar appears to have waylaid his watch. Moeen Ali has been tipped from before the season began and although he only has six wickets in the Championship the indications, particularly leaving him out of the one-day side to play red-ball cricket, are that he will take on the tweaking role in an all-round capacity. But for the record, the leading England-qualified spinner this season is Kent's Adam Riley (26 wickets) followed by Dean Cosker and Panesar (23 apiece).

One of the shining lights in England's previous Test side was Ben Stokes, who claimed a five-wicket haul in Sydney to go alongside his Perth century. Since then he has had a few problems, notably with a locker, and may pay the price for his delayed start to the season but he is clearly made for Test cricket. His inclusion, alongside Moeen, would also open the possibility of a keeper batting at No. 8.

The batting around Cook and Bell is likely to include the Yorkshire pair of Joe Root (who was dropped for Sydney) and Gary Ballance, who began the Championship season in prolific style, although was tentative outside off stump in the one-day series. Eoin Morgan could squeeze past Ballance if the selectors move aside from pure statistics. If the conditions and opposition are considered when Championship runs are scored, Samit Patel should also be very close to a recall. Hampshire's James Vince has kicked on this season, too.

Finally, having gone in reverse order, there is an opening partner for Cook to find. Michael Carberry's recall for the limited-overs squads showed he had not been discarded, Adam Lyth has hit rich form, but averaged 31 last season, and Daryl Mitchell is second to Lyth in run-scoring with an average of 108.85 albeit in Division Two. But Sam Robson has felt like the anointed one to try and form a long-term opening combination for the first time since Andrew Strauss retired.

But whoever is included, it really should be an announcement worth listening to.

Possible England squad

Alastair Cook, Sam Robson, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Moeen Ali, Matt Prior/Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan, James Anderson, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett

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