Bell and Sidebottom press England re-entry button
Rapid recalls underline selectors' new policy of keeping squad on toes
England demonstrated yesterday how much they have changed under new management. The side which a year ago looked as though it could only be broken into with the help of an explosives expert has adopted a much less rigid entry policy.
It is also one clearly designed to ensure that those already there are aware their places are not conferred by divine right. In announcing the squad for the second Test, the selectors showed that they are prepared at least to consider changing a winning team.
Ian Bell and Ryan Sidebottom, left out because of form and injury during the winter, were both recalled to a 13-man party for the match which begins at Chester-le-Street on Thursday. Monty Panesar has been omitted because the selectors are not yet ready to inaugurate the two-spinner policy which seems destined to play a key role later in the summer.
Geoff Miller, the national selector, said: "Both Bell and Sidebottom have been in form in the early part of the season and have been a part of the England set-up in recent years. Their inclusion in the squad gives the selectors, the coach and the captain several options going into this game."
Bell made two hundreds in the opening days of the season and, although he has had trouble since in converting sound starts into something more substantial, which is what got him dropped in February, his recall is recognition of the fact that he still features in England's long-term plans.
It seems that Sidebottom has made a full and swift recovery from Achilles surgery. The chronic complaint affected his return on the recent tour of the West Indies after he had already missed much of the second half of last summer with a long list of complaints ranging from back to groin.
Miller said: "Sidebottom has recovered from surgery after the Caribbean tour and reports that he is now bowling pain-free."
It is possible that neither Bell nor Sidebottom will appear in the XI which takes the field on Thursday and certain that there will not be a place for both unless there are injuries. Their selection at least should finally quell the notion that either Michael Vaughan or Stephen Harmison are in the frame for a recall.
Although the names of the erstwhile captain and strike-bowler have been much discussed, only conspiracy theorists and those who think that former glories can be recaptured can have given them serious credence. In the case of Vaughan the selectors' task was eased by his hamstring injury. Sidebottom and Bell are different altogether and both, probably for different reasons, are valued by England's team director, Andy Flower.
Sidebottom's left-arm swing not only presents a different problem for batsmen but also creates rough for Graeme Swann's off-spin when bowling to right-handers. Neither is to be underappreciated.
It looks as though Sidebottom's body is fully repaired – he was probably rushed back into action too quickly in the Caribbean because Flower and the captain, Andrew Strauss, were so eager to have him in the side – and in his two Championship matches for Nottinghamshire he has bowled with skill and precision, although taking only seven wickets.
Perhaps he will not have an enduring international career because of the toll taken by having to strive for a little extra pace in Test cricket, but England would dearly like to have him available for the Ashes starting in July.
Bell is doubtless considered by Flower to be one of his less successful charges during his period as batting coach. But the new team director is not about to give up on one with obvious talent and time. He is probably there as cover this week, but offers the opportunity to alter the balance of the side. The selectors must be sure he has learnt a lesson. He was one of those who had perhaps become a little too assured of their place. When he was dropped after the defeat to the West Indies in the first Test in Jamaica, it was probably two matches too late.
But the squad is not merely one to take on the West Indies at the Riverside. It also has been picked with the potential shape of England in the Ashes in mind.
England squad for second Test
*Thurs 14-Mon 18 May, Riverside
A J Strauss (capt)......... Age 32 ......... 61 caps
A N Cook ......... 24......... 42
R S Bopara ......... 24......... 5.........
K P Pietersen ......... 28......... 51
P D Collingwood......... 32......... 47
I R Bell ......... 27......... 46
M J Prior (wkt)......... 27......... 17
S C J Broad ......... 22......... 16
T T Bresnan ......... 24......... 1
G P Swann ......... 30......... 6
J M Anderson ......... 26......... 36
G Onions ......... 26......... 1
R J Sidebottom......... 31......... 21
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