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?

A statistical coincidence

Just a point England’s selectors might want to consider before they pencil in Matt Prior’s name for the squad to tour Sri Lanka tomorrow.

Here are Matt Prior’s Test figures:

7 matches, 397 runs, average 39.7, 1 century, strike rate 64.86, 20 catches.

And here are Geraint Jones’ Test figures at the same stage of his career:

7 matches, 337 runs, average 37.4, 1 century, strike rate 59.43, 21 catches.

I’m not sure what conclusions we can reliably draw from those figures, but it’s quite creepy nonetheless.

Recall for Ramps?

There’s an interesting claim by Mike Selvey in this morning’s Guardian: apparently Mark Ramprakash is on the verge of an England recall.

There is a strong rumour doing the rounds that when the England squad to contest the Test series against Sri Lanka is announced tomorrow week, the name of Andrew Strauss will be missing and in its place will be that of Mark Ramprakash. It would, were it to happen, be another stunner in a sporting autumn that already has had more turn-ups than a Savile Row clearance sale.

Only last month, with a strict brief to ensure that selections should anticipate playing a full part in England cricket over the next year, Strauss, already jettisoned from the one-day plans, was awarded a central contract by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and the England coach, Peter Moores. Given that in the past year three contracted players in particular – Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones – played little or no cricket for England while receiving sizeable salaries, there would be no shortage of flak heading their way if such an exercise in generosity were to be repeated.

It’s a fascinating suggestion, although personally I don’t think the England selectors will pick him. It’s just not worth their while. If he succeeds, there’ll be the inevitable question of why he wasn’t picked earlier (his excellent Ashes record should have been a factor last year). And the very first time he fails, the critics will come creeping out of the woodwork, accusing England of ‘taking a backwards step’ and ‘holding back’ some promising young batsman or other. And though Ramprakash himself seems less mentally fragile than before, a low score in his first knock might see all those bad memories come flooding back.

If he is picked, it would at least provide us with a definitive verdict on county cricket. If the most prolific county cricketer of his generation couldn’t translate that form into Test success, it might be time to start asking the ECB some probing questions.

Thanks, Fred, and goodnight

So that’s probably it for Freddie, then. Whatever drivel the ECB can try and spin about his ankle needing time “to settle and recover before the process of further strengthening and assessment is intensified” – medico-speak for “he’s done it in again” – it’s probably safe to assume that a man on the wrong side of 30 who has played just one of his team’s last four Test series isn’t really one for the future. It’s time to look beyond.

Flintoff

Probably most likely to step into the breach in the short-term is Ravi Bopara. But he’s untried at Test level and despite knocking Mike Hussey over on his ODI debut, it’s hard to imagine him knocking over Test sides with his gentle trundlers off a short run. Similarly Paul Collingwood, who encouragingly hasn’t let snaffling Sourav Ganguly on a lucky LBW shout go to his head.

So let’s look to the current crop of youngsters. There’s Adil Rashid, who scored his first Championship century this season, and team-mate Tim Bresnan, who has fought back well from being Jayasuriya’s bitch last summer. Younger still, there’s Alex Wakely at Northants and James Harris at Glamorgan. For some of these it looks like the next Ashes in 2009 will come a bit soon (Harris was born in 1990, for heaven’s sake), while none of them really looks like a potential Test number six. But then again, nor does Freddie at the moment.

Who does everyone think will end up filling Fred’s specially-modified boots? A batsman? A bowler? Or is it time David Graveney got Mark Ealham back on the phone?

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.

Who should be in England’s Ashes squad?

It’s very simple: who should be in England’s squad to tour Australia in November? It’s the most important squad announcement since, well, whatever. It’s huge. You get it, we all get it.

Should Jon Lewis get a chance? Has Stuart Broad shown enough? And who will you have as captain; Strauss or Flintoff?

All that kind of thing. I’m not around much today so leave your opinions and let’s work out the squad.

Pietersen misses out to Bell

Kevin Pietersen has missed out on a place against Bangladesh in the forthcoming 2 Test series. Ian Bell will play, and Jon Lewis – Gloucester seamer – is included for backup. I think this is a wise move by the selectors, and is indicative of their consistency and caution over the past few years. Contine reading

Ian Bell makes double hundred

Ian Bell has hit a double hundred against my team – couldn’t he have waited a week? Run Out for 231 – and, with Robert Key also making a hundred, and Pietersen looming ominously over both of them, some very, very tricky decisions have to be made. Key, Bell or Pietersen? Butcher is almost certainly out of the Bangladesh mini-series due to his injured wrist – and frankly, unless there’s a spate of injuries, this ought to be the end of his Test career. So there are potentially 2 positions available.

As much as I like Key, I feel Bell deserves the 2 Bangladesh Tests to just have a bat and aclimatise with the side. Pietersen, too, has to play…