England postponed the selection of their squad for the final match of the Ashes yesterday. It demonstrated their determination to leave nothing to chance in seeking an unprecedented 4-0 win at home against Australia.
They intended to announce the squad for the fifth Investec Test this morning but injuries to the fast bowlers, Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions, persuaded them to delay. Three selectors were in attendance yesterday to watch England Lions play the Australians in a tour match at Northampton.
It is difficult to imagine that they will hand a place in the squad to any of the bowlers on parade but confirms their willingness to consider all options. The injuries to Bresnan, who has a stress fracture of the lower back, and Onions, who has a broken little finger, are stretching their resources and it means that any vague idea they had of resting Jimmy Anderson for the match starting at The Oval on Wednesday will be shelved.
The likelihood is that Bresnan, one of the heroes of the series-clinching win at Durham last Monday, will be replaced by Chris Tremlett on his home ground. But first Tremlett has to come unscathed through Twenty20 Finals day today where he is appearing for Surrey. There is also the added problem that he has not played a first-class match for five weeks.
Steve Finn, who played in the First Test of the series, before going back to Middlesex for restorative work on his run-up, will also return to contention. He took seven wickets in the six-wicket Championship win against Durham last week.
The quartet of fast bowlers on parade yesterday at Northampton were of mixed vintage. Liam Plunkett played the last of his nine Test matches six years ago when he was still only 22. He appears to have been rejuvenated by moving to Yorkshire where he has taken 28 Championship wickets at 24.43.
James Harris has also benefited by moving from Glamorgan to Middlesex but his summer has been marred by injuries. Keith Barker, the Warwickshire left-arm seamer, has again been effective. Ben Stokes, of Durham, has genuine pace and has the potential to be a genuine all-rounder.
A different crop of pace bowlers will play for the Lions in the one-day matches against Bangladesh A next week, including 19-year-old Jamie Overton and another left-armer, David Willey. The selectors may not yet be ready to pick from left field but they are spreading their net wide in case they must.
England Lions opted to bat after winning the toss in Northampton. The home side managed 269 for 7 on a rain-affected day, with Gary Ballance the pick of the batsmen, notching a century before being trapped lbw by Steven Smith 20 minutes before stumps.
Nathan Lyon picked up two early wickets for the Australians, including opener Alex Lees and captain Eoin Morgan for 33 and 5 respectively, before Moeen Ali, the Worcestershire batsman who received a Lions call-up after amassing over 1,000 runs for his county this summer, steadied the side with 61.
A drizzly morning meant no play was possible before lunch and Lyon enjoyed some good fortune against a team stacked with left-handers. Lees was dropped on 16 and Moeen had a lucky escape on 15 when his shot off the spin bowler fell just short of David Warner – who was drafted in for four uneventful overs himself. Ashton Agar struggled to find the right line and will consider himself fortunate if he earns a recall at the Oval next week.