England enter brave new world of strength in depth
Strauss says squad needs to have '16 or 17' players to compete as Anderson sits out third Test today
England are entering a brave new world today. It is also unknown, which is the point of new worlds, and if they find it as amenable as they intend the future holds rich promise.
But there is also an underlying concern that it will not be all that it looks, and that they will be irrevocably weakened. They will take the field for the Third Investec Test against West Indies without Jimmy Anderson, and with Kevin Pietersen in a different role as a one-format cricketer. Both these changes could have a profound effect on England's direction as the captain, Andrew Strauss, conceded yesterday.
The resting of Anderson, leader of England's vaunted attack, may herald the start of a rotation policy which could mark the rapid expansion of the squad. But Anderson may continue to nurse his disaffection with his omission.
Pietersen's vexatious decision last week to retire from limited-overs cricket means that he is now a Test batsman pure and simple, and that could yet bring the very best out of him. But he too was annoyed that England refused to allow him to continue Twenty20 but not 50-over ODIs – they argued that it was all or nothing.
"I certainly wouldn't want to speak for Kevin but I think in some ways he's relieved it's all been d one, dusted and dealt with," said Strauss. "From a team point of view I think we're all keen to move forward. I think it's a decision he has every right to make as an international cricketer. He was aware of what he was doing and what the ramifications would be.
"I'm sure that one of the reasons he has made it is that he'll feel that this allows him to prolong his Test career and perform for longer and more consistently. I still think he's got a hell of a lot more cricket left in him for England."
To help to ensure that Anderson has a hell of a lot of cricket left in him is precisely why England have omitted him from the team today. They appear determined that it will not simply be a one-off and have risked the wrath of their best bowler, who has made it plain he wanted to play, by using him as a kind of launching pad.
"From Jimmy's point of view, the rotation policy is a bit of a tricky subject," said Strauss. "But we know that with the current demands on our bowlers they can't play every game of cricket so you have to look at opportunities where you can give the odd one a rest and this opportunity has presented itself.
"My genuine belief is the sides that will perform most consistently in world cricket in all three forms of the game are the ones with the most strength in depth and that's the way we've got to look at it. We need to get a squad of 16, 17 players who can perform at international standard."
Some of this, perhaps all, could be eradicated by a reduction in an overcrowded international fixture list but that was a road down which Strauss was unprepared to travel no matter how brave the world he and his colleagues are exploring. Schedules, he said, are up to administrators. Players just looked at it from the playing point of view and wanted to be paid as well as possible, which is the nub of the whole issue.
These may be mere irritants of more interest to gossip mongers, which have little bearing on dressing-room harmony. But they may also be the first stirrings of unrest among a team which has been together a long time.
If England really mean rotation business they may seize the opportunity to rest Stuart Broad from today's match. Strauss did not rule out the prospect, though that was probably because, had he announced Broad's omission, that would also have revealed the team, which is certainly not England policy no matter how brave or new the world.
It is a Test that England can expect to win whatever their bowling quartet, and if Broad does not play it will also be a proper examination of the depth that is so often spoken about. Let it not be forgotten that England have shown plenty of evidence of it. Graham Onions looks in splendid form but the feeling is that if there is only change, then Steve Finn will be chosen.
West Indies are certain to award a maiden Test appearance to the mystery off-spinner, Sunil Narine, of whom they are not alone in expecting great things. Narine has had a significant effect on all the team for whom he has played in the last six months but he may find English pitches and a Dukes ball he has used little a different proposition.
Darren Sammy, the tourists' captain, said: "He has five-wicket hauls in seven or so first-class games he has played this year and he is a good inclusion in the squad for us and hopefully this is the start of something that could be a great Test career."
West Indies may recall fast bowler Tino Best after three years and also seem set to drop the woefully out-of-form batsman, their vice-captain Kirk Edwards, and recall Narsingh Deonarine. That may entail a shuffle of the batting order, though considering its fragility that will hardly matter. If the weather permits, England should go 3-0 up long before Monday.
England (probable): A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J M Bairstow, M J Prior (or S M Davies; wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn.
West Indies (probable): D J G Sammy (capt), A B Barath, K O A Powell, D M Bravo, S Chanderpaul, M N Samuels, N Deonarine, D Ramdin (wkt), S P Narine, T L Best, R Rampaul.
Umpires H D P K Dharmasena (SL) & A L Hill (NZ)
Pitch report Green tinge when it was briefly uncovered yesterday betrayed likelihood of result should the rain hold off. Only four of the last 20 matches have been drawn.
TV Sky Sports 1, 10.30am-7pm. Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm
Today Persistent rain, turning heavy at times. Maximum temp: 14C
Tomorrow Similar conditions; 13C
Saturday Dry and overcast; 15C
Sunday Mixture of sun/showers; 15C
Monday Patchy rain; 15C
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