Batty back in the frame as England look to seal series
Gareth Batty looks set to complete a memorable hat-trick tomorrow. The Worcestershire all-rounder celebrated yesterday's call up into England's Champions Trophy party by scoring a maiden first-class century against Surrey at the Brit Oval. And further good news should come his way when David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, announces England's squad for the third npower Test at Old Trafford.
Batty made the last of his five Test appearances against the West Indies in April but unfortunately that match will not be remembered for his well flighted off-breaks. In Antigua the 26-year-old did become part of history; it was off his bowling that Brian Lara scored his 400th run. Batty and other members of Michael Vaughan's side will be hoping that the coming Test match does not inspire Lara in the same way.
The Yorkshireman returned to England with the unflattering figures of 2-185 but this has not stopped him performing with distinction for his county. Batty has taken over 40 wickets in the County Championship this season as well as averaging over 30 with the bat. England will wait until they have assessed the state of the Old Trafford pitch before they decide on their final 11 but Batty's selection for this match will confirm him as Ashley Giles' number two.
After comprehensively beating the West Indies for the second time in a row last week in Birmingham, England have little reason to change their side although there could be a case for Simon Jones replacing James Anderson on Thursday morning. The pitch at Old Trafford has traditionally offered reverse swing rather than conventional swing for the quicker bowlers and this may tempt the selectors to pick Jones ahead of the local boy.
Jones has had an interesting week since being left out of England's starting 11 at Edgbaston. This made the fast bowler available for his county but Glamorgan, controversially, chose to select bowlers who were playing for them regularly in their championship match against Hampshire, ahead of a centrally contracted player who is occasionally available.
This club versus country situation caused outcry in many sections of the media, who felt that Glamorgan should have been told that they had to play Jones in the match. Giving Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, power to withdraw players from county matches is fair enough but I do not think he should be allowed to force an individual on a county against their will. A county's main objective is to produce Test cricketers but they should not have to select players when they do not want them.
This left Jones in a horrible position but he produced the best possible response when he took five wickets for Glamorgan in this week's four-day game against Somerset. At the end of the first day's play it appeared as though the Welsh side's decision to leave him out was vindicated - Jones had figures of 0-46 off six overs. But the paceman came back strongly and his bowling on Wednesday, on a pitch not too dissimilar to that on which England will play next week, which will encourage the selectors to return to him.
Mark Butcher would have been the only other item on the selectors' agenda. The Surrey opener yesterday declared himself fit for today's Twenty20 finals day in Birmingham but this is unlikely to convince the selectors that he merits a recall. Butcher suffered whiplash in a car accident before the Lord's Test as he was travelling for treatment on a thigh strain. Both injuries have taken longer than expected to mend and the 31-year-old may now have to wait until England's winter tour of South Africa before he starts putting Robert Key under pressure.
Whilst England remain spoilt for options, the West Indies have a major task ahead of them if they are to avoid a whitewash in this four-Test series. Their captain Brian Lara has received plenty of criticism for their performances to date but an incident on the final morning of the Lord's Test highlighted how naive some of their squad are.
Whilst making their way across the ground before the start of play, with the covers on and rain falling, one of Lara's team-mates sidled up to him and asked whether the Duckworth/Lewis method would be used to reduce the total set by England. It is a sweet story but it shows the size of the problem facing West Indian cricket.
Old Trafford the squads
Possible England squad: M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, R W T Key, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, S P Jones, G J Batty.
West Indies (probable): B C Lara (capt), C H Gayle, D S Smith, R R Sarwan, S Chanderpaul, D J J Bravo, R D Jacobs, O A C Banks, C Collymore, P T Collins, J Lawson.
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