England made their bed yesterday. The worry is that they may be lying comatose in it by the end of the winter. Their 12-man squad for the first Test against Pakistan contains six specialist batsmen and five bowlers plus the wicketkeeper.
Although this nominally presents them with options for the balance of the side, the chairman of selectors, Geoff Miller, made it clear that six batsmen was the preferred option. "That's the way we're going at the moment but we've given them the chance of going the other way," he said.
It means that England now clearly intend not only to bowl out Pakistan twice with four bowlers in the four-match series that begins at Trent Bridge on Thursday, but also aim to do the same to Australia in the Ashes this winter.
Perhaps their optimism is understandable. Since last summer when it needed five bowlers to regain the Ashes across the series (four taking 10 wickets or more, two others contributing key spells) England have been bowling along nicely, as it were, with a mere quartet.
They escaped from South Africa with a drawn series and subsequently have dismantled Bangladesh. Pakistan's batting line-up is raw and lacking in discipline. The tremendous three-wicket win against Australia to level the series at Headingley on Saturday and the possible addition to the squad of the accomplished veteran Mohammad Yousuf may go some way to changing that but England will still be favourites in home conditions.
But it may demand a huge number of overs from the off-spin of Graeme Swann, which at least will provide him with some idea of what he can expect in Australia throughout the winter. But the burden on the probable seam trio of Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and Steve Finn will also be considerable. Finn, for one, will need all the increased stamina that his recent ECB-sponsored strengthening courses have presumably given him.
In the absence of the injured Ian Bell and the selectors' decision to pick 12 players instead of 13 (quite right too) the squad was fairly predictable. The nearest thing to a surprise was the omission of Tim Bresnan for his fellow Yorkshireman Ajmal Shahzad.
Bresnan has been out of sorts lately, having had a lot of bowling in the winter, and has picked up a series of niggling injuries which have not allowed him to find any rhythm. Shahzad is not only an infectiously enthusiastic bowler but an efficient one. He showed in his solitary Test appearance so far, against Bangladesh at Old Trafford, that he is slippery and can obtain reverse swing.
If England, as expected, go into the match on Thursday with six batsmen, Shahzad will presumably be the bowler left out. But Anderson, despite the support of the England captain, Andrew Strauss, must become more continuously threatening.
When the ball swings, Anderson is a thing of wonder, but when it does not he is reduced to much less exalted status.
England want him for the rest of this summer and at Brisbane in November, when the quest for the Ashes begins, but he is no longer the certainty he appeared to be a few months ago.
Much of the talk about balls is precisely that. But it is also true that the Duke which will be used for the rest of this summer in Test matches and the Kookaburra which will be used in Australia this winter have different qualities. The Duke retains its hardness and its higher seam longer, the Kookaburra goes softer earlier and quickly discourages bowlers who feel the need for reverse swing.
Still, England appear to reckon that four bowlers will do both here and Down Under. In their most recent series triumphs in Australia (1954-55, 1970-71 and 1986-87) five bowlers were always used. When four bowlers have been deemed to be enough, in most of the other series, England have lost. Not, mind you, that five were enough last time when they lost 5-0.
If it shows abundant faith in a quartet of bowlers to take 20 wickets – and who knows, Broad and Finn, with Swann doing the donkey work, may have enough telling spells in them – it demonstrates suspicion about the batting to deliver enough runs constantly.
Against Pakistan, England may need six batsmen far more than they will against Australia. Pakistan's bowlers were much the superior at Leeds and with Mohammad Aamer, full of youthful vigour, and Mohammad Asif, a master manipulator who can make the ball move alarmingly off the seam, they will be a handful.
Bell's broken foot means that Eoin Morgan will have another chance to establish a Test career. Morgan is an exciting talent and nor is he all flash and dash as he showed on Saturday when his cautious unbeaten 58 from 137 balls secured Middlesex a draw against Second Division front runners Sussex.
England have half an eye on the Ashes, which is perfectly understandable but however many bowlers and batsmen are in the mix, they had better keep the other one and a half firmly on Pakistan this next month.
Squad for Trent Bridge
England squad for the first npower Test v Pakistan, starting on Thursday:
AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wkt), GP Swann, SCJ Broad, JC Anderson, ST Finn, A Shahzad.Reuse content