England declared their hand for the future yesterday. Their left hand to be precise. In selecting Simon Kerrigan of Lancashire as the second spinner in the squad for the final Test of the Ashes series they made a significant statement about their intentions.
Kerrigan is unlikely to make the starting XI for the match, which begins at The Oval on Thursday, but he can now look forward to a tour of Australia this winter. Assuming that all 14 of those picked in a surprisingly large squad yesterday make the trip there may be only two places left available,
Uncapped in any form of the game, Kerrigan has been preferred ahead of Monty Panesar, whose international future is in serious doubt after being fined £90 for urinating on bouncers in a Brighton nightclub.
At 24, Kerrigan can expect to be the next in a long and illustrious line of left-arm spinners. It has been by far the most productive form of slow attack for England down the years and Swann, as a prodigious off-break bowler is the exception rather than the rule.
Kerrigan is from Preston (the last player from the town to appear in Tests was Andrew Flintoff) and has taken 50 first-class wickets this summer, 47 of them in the Championship, making him comfortably the country’s leading slow bowler. Although those wickets have been in Division Two he has five times taken five wickets in an innings.
The large squad not only provides Andy Flower the coach, and Alastair Cook, the captain, with multiple options but also suggests that the final XI is not set in stone. The inclusion of Chris Woakes, who has yet to play a Test after 13 ODI and four T20 appearances, means he has again pushed his way to the front of the queue of those seam bowlers jostling for attention behind the premier quartet.
Woakes had a salutary brace of one-day matches against New Zealand in early summer when he conceded 94 runs from 13 overs. But he has since assembled a string of worthy performances for Warwickshire, was an unofficial part of the squad for the Third Test in Durham and a player whom the selectors are clearly keen to encourage.
The probability is that Woakes is behind Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn, who have also been named in the squad, the latter returning after being overlooked for two matches. At the start of the series, Finn was in the team and a big part of the overall plan for the Ashes campaign but his loss of form meant a swift reappraisal. In came Tim Bresnan, whose back injury now provides another opening.
With so many possible permutations the prospect of Jimmy Anderson, distinctly jaded of late, being omitted increases. But Tremlett for Bresnan may be the limit of it. The pair may be different types of fast bowler but Australia will not look forward to being on the receiving end of Tremlett’s steepling bounce. All accounts indicate that he is back to his peak.
The only other point of debate was likely to have been around the last batting place. Jonny Bairstow is retained at number six but he has had an unconvincing time of it in a pivotal position.
He has yet to come close to repeating the sort of authoritative innings he played against South Africa at Lord’s a year ago in making 95. Nor has the joie de vivre he displayed against New Zealand at Headingley on a bright Saturday earlier this summer been much in evidence.
Bairstow’s Yorkshire colleague, Gary Ballance is receiving rave notices and a tightening of technique as well as the scoring of runs will both be essential to stave off the challenge from close to home.
England squad: Alastair Cook (captain), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann, Steven Finn, Simon Kerrigan, Chris Woakes.