Thursday 8 October 2009

England set to call time on Harmison

The England selectors will today reveal their Test and one-day squads for the winter tour of South Africa with Steve Harmison’s international future and the balance of the Test side the pressing concerns.

Ever since Duncan Fletcher’s reign, England have been wedded to a policy of playing five frontline bowlers. A luxury that most other sides can rarely afford, it is a strategy that captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower are staunch defenders of.

While England’s top six have misfired for a few years, Jonathan Trott’s assured century in the last Ashes test and Kevin Pietersen’s expected return to the side, means Ravi Bopara is the only batsmen likely to miss out. Bopara’s career is drawing unwelcome comparisons with fateful figures of Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick. Joe Denly, meanwhile, has promised enough in his recent one-day outings to tour both as a backup batsman and a possible challenger to opener Alastair Cook.

With Flintoff now retired, concerns linger over pairing Matt Prior and Stuart Broad at six and seven against a strong quartet of South African pacemen. It would mean bringing Tim Bresnan or even Liam Plunkett in at eight to bulk up a lower-order that was so instrumental to the Ashes success. Both are worthy triers and enjoyed good domestic seasons but lack class with the ball and appear better suited lower down the order in Test cricket.

The pace and bounce of the pitches seen in South Africa during the Champions Trophy have drawn calls for Harmison’s inclusion. But he insists he won’t travel as a backup and guaranteeing a starting spot for a notoriously bad tourist could prove a gamble too far. Dropping Harmison would end a frustrating career and signal a commitment to the future.

James Anderson, Broad and Graham Onions each had their moments this summer, proving dangerous when conditions suited but none are natural enforcers in the way Flintoff was and Harmison should have been. This lack of incisiveness is what makes a fifth bowler attractive. Yet a dearth of obvious candidates means Ryan Sidebottom will probably tour as a backup seamer. Sidebottom was fortunate to receive a central contract and has done little over the last year to counter suggestions that he is a spent force at Test level.

Test squad (possible): 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Jonathan Trott, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Graham Onions, 12 Joe Denly, 13 James Foster (wk), 14 Tim Bresnan, 15 Adil Rashid, 16 Ryan Sidebottom.

ODI squad (possible): 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Joe Denly, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Paul Collingwood, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Owais Shah, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Luke Wright, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson, 12 Graham Onions, 13 Ryan Sidebottom, 14 Tim Bresnan, 15 Adil Rashid.

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