England's squad for the series in Sri Lanka contains neither Andrew Strauss nor Mark Ramprakash. In his past six series, Strauss has only averaged over 40 once. Signs point to opposing sides having worked out his minimalist game. They are, increasingly, denying him the opportunity to cut and pull, and so reducing his scoring possibilities dramatically. Moreover, he seems mentally fatigued, having gone from one failure to the next. Even a month playing in both second divisions for Middlesex did not see an upturn in form - although, because his slump has gone on for so long, it looks more than just a temporary dip. The puzzle is not why he is omitted; it is why England saw fit to award him a lucrative central contract.
Ramprakash, conversely, did everything that could have been possibly required to show he is physically and mentally ripe for a return to Test match cricket. In the last three seasons, he has averaged 75, 103 and 101. Yet, astonishingly, he is being omitted, showing that past failings (more than five years ago) and age count for more than current form. David Graveney mentioned the dexterity of Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara against spin; but Ramprakash, with his perfect balance and the concentration to amass huge innings, including 266* against Mushtaq Ahmed at Hove, would simply be likely to score more runs than either in Sri Lanka. England are a mid-table Test side; are they really in a position when they can afford to refrain from picking their best XI in the hope of building for some mythical date in the future?
Of course, Shah is a worthy selection. Bopara, though, is lucky in the extreme. He has tremendous promise, and did well in the World Cup, but he only averages 30 to date in ODIs for England (with a strike-rate of just 70), and did not cover himself in glory in the recent series. Maybe he's being picked for the extra bowling he offers - but a man who averages 48 with the ball at county level is hardly likely to pick up anything more than an occasional wicket at Tests.
The bowling selections are totally predictable but, with the possible exception of Chris Tremlett, no bowlers can feel unfortunate not to have been selected. It is wise that Steve Harmison will have to prove his fitness playing two first-class games in South Africa; he should not waltz straight back into the side. Unless England play both Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad as part of a four-man attack - which is unlikely - their tail will have an unwelcome fragility to it, making it essential Matt Prior proves the doubters wrong at number seven.
Michael Vaughan will return to opening, which is surely the correct decision. Ian Bell, despite having a poor series against India in the Tests and struggling alarmingly (at three) in Sri Lanka, is rather fortunate to be promoted to number three. It would have been more prudent, surely, to use a truly specialist number three who is batting even better than Graham Gooch did at the same age. Either way, this is looks like a series England would be happy to draw.