The selection of a 16-man Ashes training squad, alongside an England Lions XI to face Australia, provides many portents for the summer ahead. The complete omission of Michael Vaughan is the clearest indication yet his Test career is at an end.
However, would it not have been worth selecting him for the Lions, just as England have done with Steve Harmison? He has been woefully out of form, certainly, but if Strauss or Cook were to get injured, who would England call upon as an emergency opener? Would Stephen Moore or Joe Denly (both selected for the Lions) really have a chance of making their Test debuts in the Ashes?
Overall, the squads are hard to overly quibble with. Leaving Harmison out the 16-man squad but allowing him a crack at Australia for the Lions is surely a good move. It is intriguing that Ian Bell has been selected as captain for the Lions - but it could be the making of him.
There is, however, a whiff of Worcestershire bias about the Lions side which will take on the Aussies at Worcester. Vikram Solanki has no chance of playing for England again. He should not have been preferred to Vaughan or especially Owais Shah. Shah's face seemingly does not fit. There are doubts over his Test match temperament, of course, but playing him for the Lions would be a low-risk way of assessing his qualities. He is considerably more likely to play for England again that Solanki, so Solanki's selection just seems like a waste of a spot. Steven Davies's selection ahead of Messrs Foster and Ambrose is slightly surprising, but he is averaging 43 in Division One this season and actually played for England as recently as March.
The spin issue remains as confusing as ever. Before the squads were announced, many felt England would allow Panesar, who the Aussies have seen before, to play for the Lions, while keeping new leg-spinner Rashid 'hidden' for England against Warwickshire. Instead, they have gone down the opposite path. Panesar is hopelessly out of form and should not play in the first Test. If Rashid does well for the Lions, perhaps he will get his first Test cap in the first game of the 2009 Ashes.