England suddenly have a settled team, but not all of its members are guaranteed to start the next Test.
If England name an unchanged team for the match with South Africa at Lord’s on 10th July, they will set a new record. Never before have the same 11 players played in six consecutive Tests. Quite a start for Geoff Miller’s selection panel.
Injuries permitting, the landmark will surely be set, as England are now far more reluctant to change their team. The ‘fail in two Tests and you’re dropped’ policy of the 1990’s has been replaced by central contract continuity and the selectors are eager to keep faith with the players that they have invested time in.
The changing of the bowling guard that took place after the Hamilton defeat necessitated a run of matches for the new unit, and all four bowlers have credit to use up in the sterner challenge of the South Africa series.
The batting line-up is less secure, but is also likely to remain untouched. The selectors clearly have deep faith in the ability of out of nick Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, but the lack of alternatives is just as much of a factor.
A look at the top Division One runscorers – the most sensible place for international recruitment if the two tier system is to have credibility – reveals a mix of former England players, overseas stars and just two possible new caps.
Marcus Trescothick tops the list – it was hard not to feel regret about his international retirement as I watched him score a recent match-winning ton at Tunbridge Wells – and is joined in the top eight of the list by Matt Prior, Mark Butcher and Ian Blackwell, who are experiencing varying degrees of time in the international wilderness. Jacques Rudolph and Justin Langer also feature.
Lancashire’s Paul Horton has hit 573 runs at an average of 63.66 and his overall first class average of 51.29 will make the selectors sit up and take notice. Statistics are only half the story and his temperament and ability to handle Test level pressure will be evaluated. He might be the latest addition to the line of Australia-reared England players.
Australia is in the selectors’ minds. The Ashes are 12 months away and any batsman hoping to feature will need to be blooded imminently, as England’s only other test action comes in the Caribbean in the new year and in a trimmed two-game series in India.
Horton and Yorkshire’s former England U19 captain Andrew Gale (501 runs at 55.66) might have to wait for their chance as the selectors believe Bell and Collingwood are the men most likely to make runs against the Australians.
It is for this reason that Division Two’s most prolific English batsmen – Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Jonathan Trott – will remain restricted to One Day opportunities.
Bopara’s selection in Sri Lanka suggests he is next line for a Test call, especially as the claims by fellow England Lions Michael Carberry and Rob Key have been hit by poor county form.