England name squad for Sri Lanka tour

England have named their squad for the tour of Sri Lanka, and it’s pretty much as predicted:

Vaughan, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Bopara, Mustard, Prior, Broad, Hoggard, Anderson, Sidebottom, Swann, Panesar.

Some initial thoughts:

1) It’s pretty harsh on Chris Tremlett, who hasn’t really put a foot wrong yet for England. Unless – gasp! – they’re punishing him unfairly for his indifferent one-day form.

2) If the selectors were going to drop Strauss they should have replaced him with another opener, rather than naming three number sixes and promoting Vaughan, who doesn’t even want to open.

3) If both of Harmison’s practice games get rained off, where does that leave him?

4) Either Broad or Swann has to bat at number eight. Which means that, cruelly, one of Anderson or Sidebottom has to sit out. Or both, if Harmison waltzes back into the team. In other words, all three pacemen from the India series could be left out in favour of someone who wasn’t even good enough to make the side at the time. Hmmm.

5) The fact that Mustard has been named in the full squad, rather than placed on standby in Chennai, is hardly a resounding vote of confidence in Prior. Is Mustard, in fact, the reserve opening batsman?

What are everyone else’s thoughts?

Slow but steady wins the race

Neither of the last two Tests has provided the kind of intrigue or tension to really kick-start this summer’s cricket. At least, such as it may be called summer when hail stops play. While the crowds may rue the decline of a once great Test nation, however, the England selectors have some cause to smile.

Kevin Pietersen may have sneaked the Man-of-the-Match award with his maiden international double hundred, but Headingley was Ryan Sidebottom’s Test. After the Durham pair of Plunkett and Harmison had comprehensively failed to look threatening at Lord’s, or even manage to find both line and length with any frequency, the prospect of a return for the equally unpredictable Anderson or Mahmood was not one of eager anticipation. Sidebottom’s selection, whilst somewhat left-field and seen by some as a backwards step, certainly served purpose. His experience and discipline was priceless to an attack whose two frontline ‘strike men’ seemed as unsure as the opposition batsmen as to where each of their deliveries was going to pitch. Michael Vaughan possibly summed it up the Aesopian predicament most accurately:

“If you’ve got someone bowling 90mph in the right area, it’s fantastic, but pace bowled on either side of the wicket is something that’s quite nice to face.”

Sidebottom, like Prior, had not had the most successful start to the cricketing calendar. Handed his second Test cap, he took his best haul in all competitions this season in the first innings, with his second innings figures costing a mere two runs extra. Prior’s two first-innings outings have both been far in excess of any of his scores for Sussex this year. Is Moores simply blessed with good fortune in his early selections, or does he have Fletcher’s Midas touch for the international performer? It is surely too soon to tell; but for the moment it seems likely that Nottinghamshire will have to wait a little longer to regain their curly-haired left-arm seamer.

Not all of the selection decisions have paid off. While Graveney et al cannot take blame for Harmison’s curious lack of consistency, Plunkett’s rather robotic action accounts for much of the troubles that went unhidden by his flattering figures at Headingley. Sidebottom has just highlighted the quality that can be found and developed in the county system that Duncan Fletcher had come to distrust. Unless Donald is able to make a swift and significant impact, a return to Durham for the young man may be the best way to improve his game.

Left arm over

Thanks to England’s decision to delay their squad announcement until 4pm yesterday afternoon, I was stuck on the A45 in rush hour by the time some vaguely pertinent details crackled over the radio. Jammed into a minibus with cricketers with various levels of interest in the national game, needless to say, the news of Ryan Sidebottom’s inclusion received a predominant chorus of ‘Who?’

It is a curious choice. It is certainly not one for the future – while 29 is by no means ancient, and Stuart Clark has shown it possible to found an international bowling career in your thirties, Graham Onions is fit and in form even if Stuart Broad is not. Nor is this a Shah incident, where a consistent county performer has filled an injury hole. In fact, Sidebottom does not presently rank as even Nottinghamshire’s top performer, being out-averaged by Ealham and out-wicketed by Shreck. The same occurred last season, and only last week, teammate Mark Wagh was talking up Shreck’s chances of an England cap. So what brings the potential of a second Test cap to top Sidebottom’s distinctive curly locks?

After Plunkett and Harmison dealt so poorly with an undercooked West Indian batting line-up, it is only natural that England look for variation – and thus, to the left arm seamer. The former Yorkshire stalwart may not be the most in form or reliable of options, but at least he is something different. True, Sidebottom is unlikely to play a part. However, it may just be that while Moores publicly backs his Durham seamers to come good, there is a feeling that something, indeed anything, different might be what is needed to take 11 wickets. Of course, it can’t hurt that a substantial part of the now Nottingham player’s game was developed at Headingley. Interestingly, Sidebottom’s only previous Test cap was due to an injury to Hoggard some 6 years ago. Might he be adding to his headwear in similar circumstances by the weekend?