Following Leicestershire club director Phil Whitticase’s comments that Jigar Naik should be Graeme Swann’s successor in the England test team, it raises the pressing issue that there is no clear candidate for the position come the summer tests against Sri Lanka and India.
The selectors and captain Alastair Cook might well use both series to have a look at several candidates who can secure the role beyond the summer.
This vacant position makes for a very interesting start to the 2014 County Championship season with those impressing early having a decent chance of making the team. Naik is certainly a possibility with 130 wickets in 53 first class appearances to his name. At 29, he might be seen as following a similar course as Swann in that his international breakthrough comes at a later stage in his career.
What might work against him however is that he is susceptible to injury and plays for one of the worst teams in the four-day format. Of course, age might count against him should the selectors decide upon younger options.
Indeed, one candidate who will be desperate to start well is Simon Kerrigan who had a nightmare debut in the fifth Ashes test at The Oval, albeit unfairly rushed into a game which carried no real significance. At 24, he is likely to get more opportunities as he is highly rated and with Lancashire back in the top tier of the County Championship, a good start will not go unnoticed whilst boosting his confidence that was brutally crushed in that sole test.
Kerrigan’s main threat in terms of age and potential is Scott Borthwick, who too has one test to his name making his debut in Melbourne in the recent fourth Ashes test. The Durham player’s performance was considerably more positive having taken four wickets, one more that Monty Panesar managed in two tests. With Borthwick offering something a little different with leg spin as well as batting ability, the selectors might well choose him over the Lancastrian. Having said that, leg spin is an incredibly difficult skill to get right so perhaps more time in the county circuit honing his craft might be considered better, opening the door for Kerrigan.
Other potential options include Danny Briggs at Hampshire who is currently in England’s one day set up. Leg spinner Will Beer at Sussex is highly regarded and the forgotten man Adil Rashid could get himself back on the radar if he starts the season well.
A couple of players who will be unlikely in the frame are Monty Panesar and James Tredwell. Although the former is now the most experienced spinner and is dangerous when on form, his off-field antics and below par performances in Australia all signal to an end to his international career. Tredwell is likely to join the one test wonder club, who was overlooked for the Boxing Day test match with the team opting for Borthwick. At 31, his opportunities at the top level looked to be very limited now.
For the first time in a long time, it is difficult to predict the England test lineup. How many would have predicted Kerrigan, Borthwick, Chris Woakes and Gary Ballance all making their debuts in 2013? The run up to the first test against Sri Lanka makes for compelling viewing and it remains to be seen who will seize their opportunity and lead the spin attack.
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