Bell call-up as England fail to ring changes

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The Independent Online

It is a coincidence that Andrew Strauss chose to spend the past week on holiday in Italy, a country whose footballers have managed to manufacture order from chaos, and the stand-in England captain finds himself in a similar position as he considers his options for next week's first Test against Pakistan.

England will announce their squad for Lord's tomorrow morning and, despite losing seven consecutive matches to Sri Lanka, there are unlikely to be wholesale changes to the side humbled by Muttiah Muralitharan at Trent Bridge a month ago.

Long-term injuries to Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles - who yesterday claimed he expects to be fit for this winter's Ashes - along with the absence of Andrew Flintoff, mean ngland are picking their best back-up players, and it would be rather unfair to expect the selectors to conjure up another batch.

Finding a player to fill the void created by Flintoff is the biggest problembut it is an impossible task. Rikki Clarke, the Surrey all-rounder, is the only player in county cricket with the credentials to act as a direct replacement but his bowling has been so wayward that the selectors did not even consider him for the current England A game against Pakistan.

With England's recent results in mind, the selectors would be forgiven for showing caution against a strong Pakistan team. It may sound negative, but England would be quite content to turn up at Old Trafford for the second Test with the series still level, and with Flintoff back in the side.

Ian Bell will be the latest player to benefit from England's injury crisis. The Warwickshire batsman was unfortunate to be dropped at the start of the summer when Alastair Cook was preferred to him at No 3. Cook is expected to keep the position on Thursday but it will be interesting to see who out of Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Bell bats at four, five and six. Bell is the favourite to bat at six, which will be the fifth different position he has held in England's order in 15 appearances.

Pietersen and Collingwood will need to convince the selectors they are fully fit after missing England's final two one-day games against Sri Lanka, but it is hard to believe either would miss such an important match. Pietersen sustained nothing more than bruising on the left knee, and two weeks of rest should have cleared it up.

Collingwood picked up a thigh strain during the second Test against Sri Lanka and soldiered on. The niggle is unlikely to affect his batting but the absence of Flintoff means he will be expected to bowl a few overs. Collingwood is the most vulnerable of England's batsmen and, no matter the state of his thigh, would not want to give a competitor the chance to impress.

England's batsmen did not have a particularly impressive one-day series but it was the performance of the fast bowlers that was most worrying. Test cricket is a different game, and England retain confidence here. But the beatings handed out to Stephen Harmison, Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood must have had a detrimental effect.

The triumvirate conceded more than 6.5 runs an over, with Harmison, England's most experienced bowler, haemorrhaging a record 97 runs in the final one-day match. Harmison missed the Test series against Sri Lanka with sore shins and his form since is a concern. Plunkett has a similar complaint but he is fit for selection.

Harmison is England's likeliest match-winner but the sight of him coming on second change at Headingley highlighted his fragile confidence. England needed him to lead the attack but he passed the baton on to inexperienced bowlers.

The lack of control offered by these three will encourage the selectors to pick Jonathan Lewis ahead of Mahmood. Lewis did not look particularly threatening on his Test debut against Sri Lanka, but at least he was able to bowl to the field set by his captain.

After watching the white ball disappear to all parts, Strauss will look forward to calling on Matthew Hoggard and Monty Panesar, England's most consistent bowlers, and both can expect lengthy spells.

Lord's is a venue that offers finger spinners little assistance but England may pick Jamie Dalrymple, who had an excellent one-day series, when he batted intelligently and was England's most economic bowler. His off-spin is unlikely to bowl a Test team out but his selection would give England options. Panesar took 5 for 78 in the third Test against Sri Lanka and he would be unlucky to miss out but Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is obsessed with having bowlers who can bat.

Probable England squad: A J Strauss (c), M E Trescothick, A N Cook, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, I R Bell, G O Jones, L E Plunkett, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar, J W M Dalrymple, J Lewis.

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