Early May but England may turn to two twirlers

Lord's could be too early but Swann and Panesar likely to team up for Ashes

England have chosen boldly for the earliest Test match to be played in this country. In a lean squad of 12 – a declaration of intent and decisiveness – they have included a new No 3 batsman and two new seam bowlers. One of the enduringly alluring games of early summer, or late spring as it has unfortunately become, is to select the team for the opening Test before the selectors get their hands on it.

The trio of Ravi Bopara (four previous Tests, all batting at No 6), Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions (both uncapped) would have been in the teams only of the sort of punter who backed Mon Mome for the Grand National. But that is not the extent of the selectors' adventure and, on Wednesday morning at Lord's against West Indies, the team formally coached by Andy Flower and captained by Andrew Strauss for the first time, may yet take one more audacious step.

It is improbable but the hint of their intentions was there last Wednesday in the dozen names. England have at their disposal two spin bowlers, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. In England, in May. The idea that both could make the final XI, and one must, is faintly ridiculous. England simply do not play two spinners unless one of them can also bat properly.

But they may yet do so here partly because the Test pitches at Lord's in the last few years have given scant assistance to anybody, slope or no slope, and partly because there is the suspicion they might just have a strategy in mind for later in the summer.

England have intermittently played two spinners in their team on tour. It happened twice in India and in the final Test of the recent tour in Trinidad when Swann and Panesar showed together that they could not only hold batsmen but create pressure. Flower, who was then in temporary charge, was extremely impressed with how they worked together and you could virtually see his mind looking forward to the summer and assessing Australia's bizarre lack of spinning options.

Geoff Miller, England's national selector, gave little away, as is his wont, but they would not have included two spin bowlers if it was not an option. "There is an opportunity definitely and that is what we want to create," he said. "Of course it depends on conditions and the pitch but it is one of the directions that we want to go in and I know how much Andrew enjoyed captaining with two spinners in Trinidad. It can give you different things."

Miller, an off-spinning all-rounder in the Swann mould, frequently played with a spinning partner in his 34 Tests. But that was then. It is 10 years since England played two spinners in a home Test. Peter Such and Phil Tufnell played in a rain-affected draw at The Oval against New Zealand.

The last time they did so at Lord's was against Australia in June 1993 when Such and Tufnell were also in tandem. To say that it ended in tears is to understate the torrents that flowed from English eyes as Australia made 632 for 4. Tufnell, at least, took two of their wickets but Australia's two spinners did somewhat better, Shane Warne taking eight wickets and Tim May six in the victory by an innings and 62 runs.

The tide has turned decisively against spin in this country since, though there has been an obsessive search for a game-turning wrist spinner. This has missed the point that England have never had game- turning wrist spinners but a series of crack left-armers.

Swann is a smart off-spinner, not Jim Laker and maybe not even John Emburey, the best of recent vintage, but he is smart enough to understand that off spin may be about to have its day again. He has accuracy, he turns the ball, he has decent changes of pace and angle and he has quickly come to appreciate the need to work over after over on a batsman in Test cricket.

Panesar has been a disappointment in many quarters and has had an indifferent three matches for Northamptonshire this season which have yielded just three wickets. After 38 Test matches he has not developed as he should have done.

Part of the problem is that he is learning his craft at international level. He has played only four more Championship matches than he has Tests. Welcome to professional cricket in the 21st Century. But in some ways he is done a disservice. Panesar's shortcomings are plain but he still averages seven runs a wicket fewer than his immediate predecessor as the side's left-arm spinner, Ashes hero Ashley Giles, and he has taken his wickets at a quicker rate than two great English left-arm spinners from another age, Hedley Verity and Derek Underwood.

Whatever the composition of their sensible five-man attack, England need their five batsmen to get enough runs. However flat Lord's is, it will not be as flat as the surfaces in the Caribbean. Bopara at No 3 will have to hit the ground running because while he might have Flower's support, there is a definite feeling that Ian Bell is being rested while he retrieves his form and finds some gumption. But Bopara is the man in possession.

The same may apply to Onions and Bopara, though the urge to have Ryan Sidebottom's left-arm swing is patent. Swann, too, would relish it, not only because they are mates but because of the rough that Sidebottom creates into which he can bowl.

Always learn from history; and if England are looking for encouragement to use two spinners in May they should remember that in May 1905, in Birmingham, they had Wilfred Rhodes (slow left-arm) and Bernard Bosanquet (right-arm leg spin) and beat Australia by 213 runs.

It is a novel squad, it had Flower's (and Strauss's) stamp on it. But whatever is said now, the team at Lord's on Wednesday against West Indies will not be the team that walks out at Cardiff against Australia in July.

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice