England go unchanged to keep up momentum
England have resisted the temptation to tinker with their series-winning side by naming an unchanged squad for Thursday's final Test of the summer against Pakistan. And with an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-Test series, who can blame the selectors?
With the Ashes looming, there seems little point in England risking losing the momentum they have worked so hard to regain. After failing to win each of their three post-Ashes series, last week's victory at Headingley was much needed, and a defeat at The Oval, even with a sub-strength team, would create unnecessary doubt in a side that will soon embark on the toughest challenge it is likely to face.
It would be foolish too to needlessly upset a player whose commitment and effort they will require in Brisbane on 23 November. Cricketers have a relatively short career and they all want to represent their country on as many occasions as they can. Matthew Hoggard, after 35 consecutive Test appearances for England, deserves a rest more than anyone else but, even with a knee niggle, he would be the last player that would want to miss out.
Andrew Strauss will captain England for the 13th time at The Oval, a total that now gives him quite a bit more experience at the job than Andrew Flintoff, the man he is standing in for. And the difference in exposure will only increase before England line up against Ricky Ponting's side in 14 weeks' time.
And with this in mind, David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, has admitted that the captaincy for this winter's Ashes will be discussed by Duncan Fletcher, Geoff Miller and himself. When Michael Vaughan was officially ruled out, Graveney suggested that Flintoff would captain the side in Australia but the performance of Strauss against Pakistan has complicated matters.
"Duncan, quite rightly, has been quoted in the press saying that we need to talk about it," said Graveney. "That's the statement that's been made and that's the line. Both have done very well and they both have aspirations to lead in Australia. We, as selectors, need to talk to the individuals concerned but from the process adopted in the summer, you can probably get a fair indication of how we are thinking."
So, from this, it can be seen that Flintoff has Graveney's vote, and it will be the voting of Fletcher and Miller who decide on the final decision.
Whoever is in charge will have the rare pleasure of taking an England team to Australia that contains a match-winning spinner. Miller, coincidentally, was the last England spinner to take more than 20 wickets in a series in Australia. The off-spinning all-rounder took 23 wickets at an average of 15 on the 1978-79 tour, and the potential of Monty Panesar has not been lost on Ponting, the Australian captain.
"We'll try to make some sort of impact on him early on, and we won't let him get on top," said Ponting.
"The way our left-handers, especially Justin Langer and Matty Hayden, play spin is to be fairly aggressive."
However, Ponting did accept that his side may find this challenge far harder than they have against previous England spinners.
"He didn't look like he was scared to throw the ball up a little bit and try and get you out," Ponting said.
"A lot of Englishmen over the years have been guilty of firing the ball in a bit too fast, and you can see with him that he uses the air a lot more.
"He's got good, subtle changes of pace and a really good arm ball as well. He's probably a more attacking bowler than [Ashley] Giles was, and a wicket-taking option for them, more so than Giles."
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