England opting for experience
England have brought in some big match experience in an attempt to cover all their options as they prepare for the deciding Ashes Test still sweating on the fitness of injured fast bowler Simon Jones.
Needing only a draw in this week’s final npower Test to claim their first Ashes series success since 1987, the selectors announced a 13-man squad filled with familiar faces rather than gamble on fresh promise in their biggest match for decades.
Hampshire seamer Chris Tremlett’s untimely loss of form in recent weeks has cost him the chance to make his debut at The Oval, having failed to break into the starting line-up despite being named in the squad for the previous four Tests in the series.
Instead of handing Tremlett his possible debut as a replacement for Jones, England instead decided to recall Lancashire seamer James Anderson and Durham all-rounder Paul Collingwood as cover, both of whom have experience of playing in major internationals.
England have described Jones’ progress as “encouraging” after a week of treatment in an oxygen chamber, which is designed to accelerate the rate of recovery, and he will be given every chance to prove his fitness after contributing 18 wickets to the series already.
“It’s one thing walking around, it’s a different matter trying to bowl at 90mph, but it’s positive news for us,” said chairman of selectors David Graveney.
“It’s encouraging I haven’t been told by our medical staff to write him off because he won’t be fit.
“It’s not a precise science and in the end it’s only the individual that knows what he can and cannot do, but I know Michael (Vaughan) and Duncan (Fletcher) will give him the maximum amount of time.”
In the meantime, Collingwood and Anderson have been rewarded for impressive seasons in county cricket by moving ahead of Tremlett as England’s choices as possible replacements for Jones.
Anderson has claimed 51 championship wickets for Lancashire this season, bouncing back strongly from a disappointing winter in South Africa when he was pushed to the sidelines for most of the tour and his lack of match practice told during the last of his 12 Test appearances against the Proteas in Johannesburg.
He has worked hard to get back in and will be encouraged by his last England appearance at The Oval when he claimed 4-52 in the second innings to help clinch a 10-wicket victory over West Indies a year ago.
“He’s taken over 50 wickets for Lancashire on a notoriously flat wicket at Old Trafford,” enthused Graveney.
“He’s bowled a lot of overs and taken a good share of wickets and in the last couple of games he bowled really well.
“Jimmy is a centrally-contracted player who has been out of the loop recently. Things didn’t work out for him in the winter, but he’s gone away and played a lot of domestic cricket.
“I’m sure he’ll be pleased to get back in with the same group of lads - he knows what happens in the dressing room, he knows the form and that will be good for him next week.”
Collingwood provides a different sort of cover than Anderson in that he will not be regarded as a front-line bowler.
He has taken only 20 wickets with his improving swing bowling this summer but offers greater stability to the batting line-up after scoring six centuries for Durham and topping 1,000 runs at an average of 58.83.
That form would also provide England with a natural replacement for Ian Bell should he suffer a recurrence of the cramp he suffered in both legs during Warwickshire’s defeat in the C&G Trophy final to Hampshire at Lord’s on Saturday.
The inclusion of both players also signals a warning to England’s vibrant young team that although they have exceeded expectations by dominating the Ashes series this summer, selection is still not a closed shop even though they have named an unchanged line-up for the last four Tests.
“When you get to the situation when you’re picking the same guys, they get a lot out of it because you’re building tight relationships within the dressing room not dissimilar to what Australia have enjoyed for many years,” said Graveney.
“It should also not be perceived as a closed shop. There are many good players out there knocking on the door.
“Everybody talks about consistency, which is a nice accolade for the selectors to have, but you don’t want to create a situation where it’s just a closed door.
“There are lots of good players out there knocking on the door and I was particularly pleased with the way the young Essex lads performed against Australia yesterday (Saturday).”