England may opt for Anderson over Jones

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The Independent Online

Fast Bowlers are not renowned for their aptitude. Captains and batsmen refer to them as "thick quicks" when they gather in groups. But on the eve of the announcement of England's squad for the first Test against New Zealand Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and James Anderson will be aware that five into four does not go.

Fast Bowlers are not renowned for their aptitude. Captains and batsmen refer to them as "thick quicks" when they gather in groups. But on the eve of the announcement of England's squad for the first Test against New Zealand Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and James Anderson will be aware that five into four does not go.

This was the case in the Caribbean, when England's pacemen gave the West Indies a taste of their own rum punch, and it will be the same again at Lord's on Thursday morning when Michael Vaughan tells one of his fast bowlers that his services are not required.

In the West Indies, Anderson was the remainder one. During England's warm-up games the Lancashire seamer was out-bowled by the other four pacemen and spent the next five weeks waiting for an opportunity. This only came when the one-day series started.

Yet it would come as no surprise if Anderson were to regain his Test place next week at the expense of Jones. The Glamorgan paceman faded towards the end of the West Indies tour. And back in Britain he has done little to suggest he is back to his fiery best. Anderson has, and his six-wicket haul for Lancashire against Worcestershire on Thursday could not have been better timed.

A Lord's Test in May is bound to favour the seamers but England are unlikely to pick five fast bowlers in their final XI, even if they are the potential match-winners. Only one spin bowler will get the nod and Ashley Giles can expect to be picked ahead of Gareth Batty.

In the Caribbean, England's success was based around the bowling of their pacemen and this series will be no different. In the West Indies, Harmison led the attack superbly but he was given excellent support by Hoggard, Flintoff and at times Jones. These four, on helpful pitches, put the West Indian batsmen under intense pressure and they cracked. Three achieved career-best bowling figures and the other, Hoggard, took a hat-trick in Barbados.

A repeat performance over the coming month would be welcomed but it would be asking a lot. New Zealand will provide Vaughan's side with a sterner test than Brian Lara's fragile team. The "Black Caps", unlike the West Indies, do not rely on one player for their inspiration. Their side will possess at least nine players who are capable of scoring Test hundreds.

All but four of Vaughan's side have played domestic cricket since they returned from the Caribbean but there is a real danger that the tourists, who are currently playing their third first-class match of the tour, will be more suited to English conditions than the home side.

Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Flintoff and Harmison, who played in all of England's Test and one-day matches in the West Indies, will be playing in their first games of cricket in England this summer when they walk out at Lord's. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is a big advocate of rest and he will be hoping the weather remains fine at the start of next week so that each of these players can get the practice he needs.

The rest of the side virtually picks itself. Ian Botham has suggested that England should drop Nasser Hussain but this would be unfair on the former England captain. Hussain still produces runs when they are needed most. His three half-centuries on bowler-friendly pitches in the Caribbean showed that he still enjoys a good scrap.

If England's selectors were to axe the 36-year-old, it would make sense to fill this hole with either Trescothick or Vaughan and not Paul Collingwood. The Durham batsman has a central contract but Andrew Strauss, who played three polished one-day innings in the West Indies, looks the better Test cricketer and could come in as an opener.

This will not happen, even though many believe four would be a good position for Vaughan to bat. Trescothick's runs in the fourth Test, and his batting against the white ball, will give the left-hander another chance. But England's opening pair need to offer the side greater consistency at the top of the innings.

If Vaughan and the selectors keep to their word, Geraint Jones looks set to play his first Test match in England. The Kent wicketkeeper will never forget his debut in Antigua. No player has ever stood behind a batsman when he has scored 400 runs in a single Test innings. Conditions will dictate that he has more work to do behind the stumps, but batting against a disciplined New Zealand attack may not be such an attractive proposition.

England XIII: M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, M A Butcher, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones (wkt), A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, S P Jones, A J Strauss.

Four from five England's pace-bowling options

Stephen Harmison

Age: 25. Tests: 16. Wickets: 64. Average: 24.33. Best bowling: 7-12 v West Indies, Jamaica, 2003/04.

Strengths: England's Caribbean hero has the pace and bounce to trouble any batsman in the world. Against the West Indies he combined these assets with far greater control and took 23 wickets.

Weaknesses: Can bowl too short and be wayward, especially with new ball.

Aims this summer: To prove the West Indies tour was not a one off and to confirm himself as world class.

Matthew Hoggard

Age: 27. Tests: 26. Wickets: 92. Average: 31.87 Best bowling: 7-63 v New Zealand, Christchurch, 2001/02.

Strengths: Hoggard is England's work-horse. In the Caribbean he kept the pressure on and proved to be the ideal foil for Harmison.

Weaknesses: When it fails to swing can look innocuous and in his urge to take wickets forget his role in the side.

Aims the summer: When England have bowled badly, Hoggard is often the first to go. Needs to make himself indispensable.

Andrew Flintoff

Age: 26. Tests: 33. Wickets: 63. Average: 42.32. Best bowling: 5-58 v West Indies, Barbados, 2003/04.

Strengths: Like Hoggard, never shirks his responsibilities. As a tall, accurate seamer he offers his captain control and the ability to take wickets.

Weaknesses: At times the Lancashire all-rounder bowls too short. He also fails to move the ball enough in the air or off the seam.

Aims this summer: To take more wickets and get his bowling average down to an acceptable level.

Simon Jones

Age: 25. Tests: 6. Wickets: 16. Average: 33.44. Best bowling: 5-57 v West Indies, Trinidad, 2003/04.

Strengths: Jones is a fit, strong athlete who can bowl quickly. His pace allows him to unsettle batsmen even on slow, flat pitches.

Weaknesses: The Glamorgan man is still finding his game. He is raw and prone to wayward and expensive spells.

Aims this summer: To stay fit for the entire season. Through bowling he will become more consistent and hopefully turn into the spearhead England want.

James Anderson

Age: 21. Tests: 8. Wickets: 26. Average: 34.95. Best bowling: 5-73 v Zimbabwe, Lord's, 2003.

Strengths: Did not play in a Test match in the Caribbean but worked hard. He swings the ball at pace and has knack of taking wickets with poor deliveries. Weaknesses: Inconsistent and like Jones he needs to bowl more. Only then will he be able to groove his action and bowl with discipline.

Aim this summer: To prove he is not a one-season wonder.