England face gamble in rushing return of Harmison

England's cricketers have predictably rallied behind their captain, Andrew Flintoff, after the team's failure to defeat Sri Lanka in the first Test at Lord's. Flintoff received some criticism at the conclusion of the drawn match but he will be hoping to call on Stephen Harmison, his closest friend and staunchest ally, during the second Test which starts at Edgbaston this Thursday.

Harmison has not played for England since the remarkable victory over India in Bombay two months ago. He finished the Test with shin splints and returned home, missing the seven one-day international series against the same opponent. The injury, along with the birth of his third child, kept the fast bowler out of action for seven weeks and he returned to action only in last Sunday's Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy match against Lancashire.

Poor weather and determined Durham batting has reduced the number of competitive overs Harmison will bowl before the second Test but it would be a surprise if the England selectors omit him from the 13-man squad announced tomorrow.

Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett did well at Lord's but a fully fit Harmison is an automatic pick in the England team. The selectors will have watched him closely yesterday at Nottingham, and again today, in order to gauge whether he is ready for action.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, suggested that the selectors should not rush Harmison back if he is not quite ready, and he is right to be wary. Without him, England should win the series. But the same cannot be said against Pakistan, who arrive in England at the end of June and offer much sterner opposition. England will need Harmison fit for the four-Test series against Inzamam-ul-Haq's side, and if that can be guaranteed by giving him an extra week of practice here it should be taken.

England are unlikely to make any further changes to the squad and rightly so - if they had held on to their chances at Lord's they would be 1-0 up.

The return of Harmison will probably lead to Jon Lewis's exclusion. This is hard on Lewis, who took 5 for 36 for Gloucestershire after being omitted from the starting XI in the first Test, but the decision does make sense.

There is no better bowler in England than Lewis at this time of the year. But his bowling will not suit the conditions England will encounter in Australia in November. Australian pitches reward big, strong fast bowlers who hit the pitch hard. Medium- pacers who pitch the ball up tend to get carted.

The England team will have one concern when they gather in Birmingham on Monday, and that is that the pitch turns. Edgbaston offers more to spinners than Lord's, and if this is the case Muttiah Muralitharan becomes a potential match-winner. England claimed an unforgettable two-run win over Australia there last year, but in the euphoria people forgot that Shane Warne took 10 for 16, and Muralitharan is capable of matching him.

Steve Rouse, the head groundsman, will be under instructions to produce a hard, fast, green pitch so the home team's pacemen can bully the Sri Lankans. The recent weather may have made it impossible for Rouse to provide Fletcher with the initial two items on this list, but it should have ensured the pitch does not start dry.

If the sun comes out it is to be hoped that Monty Panesar gets more of a bowl than at Lord's where his longest spell over the last two days was four overs.

Meanwhile, England yesterday announced their 25-man Development Squad for this summer which highlights their wealth of seam bowlers. The squad, which includes the 12 players on central contracts, will come under the control of Fletcher for the rest of the year and is regarded as the cream of talent in domestic cricket. Included are the highly rated Leicestershire fast bowler Stuart Broad, son of the former England opener Chris Broad, and James Anderson.

Probable England squad for second Test v Sri Lanka: A Flintoff (Lancashire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), A J Strauss (Middlesex), A N Cook (Essex), K P Pietersen (Hampshire), P D Collingwood (Durham), G O Jones (Kent), L E Plunkett (Durham), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), S J Harmison (Durham), M S Panesar (Northamptonshire), I R Bell (Warwickshire), S I Mahmood (Lancashire).

England and Wales Cricket Board 2006 England Development Squad: Vaughan*, J M Anderson (Lancashire), Bell, I D Blackwell (Somerset), S C J Broad (Leicestershire), R Clarke (Surrey), Collingwood*, Cook, Flintoff*, A F Giles* (Warwickshire), Harmison*, Hoggard*, Jones*, S P Jones* (Glamorgan), E C Joyce (Middlesex), J Lewis (Gloucestershire), A G R Loudon (Warwickshire), Mahmood, Panesar, Pietersen*, Plunkett,C M W Read (Nottinghamshire), O A Shah (Middlesex), Strauss*, Trescothick*.

*Players in receipt of 12-month ECB central contracts.

News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003