National selector Geoff Miller has composed what can only be described as an experimental squad for the forthcoming Ashes series with a number of surprise names making the cut. Miller has one of those jobs where he is never going to make everyone happy, but the total lack of experience in his squad will surely come back to haunt him should England come home from Australia without the urn.
That is not to say any of the novices will get the nod to actually play any cricket, with England’s starting XI virtually certain. Should injury hit, however, England may find themselves placing a great deal of hope in players who have never played a Test.
Kevin Pietersen has been somewhat injury-prone for a number of years now and Gary Ballance looks the most likely to replace him if needed. Perhaps it was Ballance’s South African heritage that made him a certainty for the England squad, but he failed to impress when given his chance in the one day against Ireland, facing just two balls before being out for a duck.
For Yorkshire, Ballance has an incredibly one-day average of 56, but his inclusion means there is no room for Nick Compton, James Taylor or the experienced Ravi Bopara. Michael Carberry makes up the other batting reserve after a strong season with Hampshire.
One of the more understandable decisions is Tim Bresnan’s absence. Bresnan has been struggling with a stress fracture which he hopes to overcome in time for the winter, but for the meantime Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn will travel to Australia. Surprisingly, Boyd Rankin, formerly of Ireland, has also made the cut.
The Warwickshire fast bowler impressed against Australia in the ODIs, but that is so far all the experience he has. Graham Onions’ exclusion is certainly disappointing, not least for the seamer himself who has spoken of his wish to play one last Test for England.
Onions’ team mate Ben Stokes has made the squad and is a fairly safe bet seeing as he can bat and bowl. In all likelihood, England will play four out and out bowlers and with Australia’s wickets not encouraging a lot of turn, playing two spinners looks out of the question.
Monty mania looks set to return, however, as Monty Panesar has been chosen as the back-up for Graeme Swann. The call-up represents a monumental turnaround for Panesar, who has endured a turbulent summer, moving to Essex after Sussex terminated his contract for his notorious nightclub antics. Panesar’s call was perhaps inevitable after Simon Kerrigan’s woeful debut and the spinner virtually selected himself with 12 wickets in five County Championship games.
Behind the stumps, Jonny Bairstow has defied the critics he faced in the summer. Jos Buttler and Steve Davies have been overlooked, and Buttler in particular could have been a sound choice after proving he is a safe pair of hands for England. Eoin Morgan may have put selectors off with his strange field placings as Lions captain.
The tour will undoubtedly be a valuable experience for many of the unpicked players, but with director of cricket Andy Flower making a decision on his future after the tour, Miller may also find himself with questions to answer come the new year.
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