The news that England's talismanic allrounder, Andrew Flintoff, is set to undergo further ankle surgery, is yet another stage in the ongoing England injury saga. It is hard to recall the last time that an international side was so hampered by injuries for such a lengthy period of time. Not once since the fourth Test match of the 2005 Ashes have England been able to field what the coach considered to be the best IX cricketers in the country. At the current moment in time England are missing three of their match winners in Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones. Attempts to further the career of the promising Stuart Broad have also been frustrated at the start of this season and Ashley Giles continues to fade further into the abyss of time. These players could make a massive difference to Team England, but at what point do their replacements in the team become first choice? Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell have gained the most from England's injury woes and it is hard now to argue that either one is unworthy of their position in the Test side. Alistair Cook is certainly there to stay, as is Monty Panesar and the likes of Ryan Sidebottom have come in to add competition to the bowling arena, an area which desperately needs the greater quality in competition. With Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff likely to miss most, if not all of the summer, only Marcus Trescothick can be considered a realistic playing option before the summers end and the onset of the Twenty20 World Cup, followed by the winter tours.
This leaves the selectors with a serious dilemna. Without Flintoff they will feel compelled to stick with their four man bowling attack, supplemented by the likes of Collingwood, which will provide less immediate worries over who to drop from the batting line-up. That will be postponed until Trescothick's eagerly anticipated return. However, when Flintoff does return for the winter, then what? Do they play him as a bowler, or play him as an allrounder, ditching one of their to date in form batsmen? It will be a serious quandry for them. It is extremely doubtful as to whether Flintoff will be up to bowling enough overs to be part of a three man seam attack again, but surely he must be in the side? With a winter tour to Sri Lanka looming and concerns over the efficacy of a three man seam attack containing Flintoff and the batting prowess of an order with Flintoff at six, the selectors may well pull off a master stroke by selecting the young Yorkshire Legspinner, Adil Rashid. Capable of batting in the top six he would seriously extend the batting line up, whilst also providing the spinning variation that England have so desperately yearned for of late. It is hard to argue that two spinners anywhere on the subcontinent, especially in Sri Lanka, is not the way to go and by this coming winter Rashid will have had as much, if not more, experience than Monty Panesar when he came into the side for the tour to India, just over a year ago. This would of course mean dropping a bowler and a batsman, but the side would be gaining effectively four quality players to replace them.
Ryan Sidebottom is likely to have to be satisfied with a Jon Lewis esque role in the Test side from the end of this series, though he could prehaps fulfil an important role in England's one day side, much as Nathan Bracken does for Australia. With Matthew Hoggard an essential component of the Test team and Rashid, Panesar and Flintoff already identified as three of the remaining four, who else should bowl in Sri Lanka? Who indeed, it is a wide open field and completely up for grabs over this summer. Simon Jones will need to get fit, stay fit and prove he is still the threat he once was, which is currently doubtful at best. Steve Harmison would be the man if he could sort out his home sickness and inconsistant (or is it now consistant?) form. If not then Stuart Broad must play and be well groomed for the future. The batting order would be hard to pick, but with Trescothick possibly returning for what is an ever more looking "found out" Strauss and the Captain Marvell permanently restored to three, it is likely that Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood would once again fight it out for a place as England's middle order lynchpin. It would be harsh on Colli to say goodbye, but in this fickle game Bell has more to offer in the future, through his technique, age and growing mental strength.
Thus my Test team for the winter tour of Sri Lanka would be:
Michael Vaughan (c)
Matthew Prior (wk)
12th Man: Paul Collingwood.
The sacrifice of Rashid or Panesar for the later tour to New Zealand would of course be required to accomodate the extra seamer, either of Harmison or Jones, but with Matt Prior capable of batting within the top six, Flintoff more than capable of big innings from number seven and Stuart Broad looking good for being a number eight batsman, England are not going to be found wanting for quality players in the future. The ultimate goal of overtaking Australia may be a whole lot more feasible by this time next year.