Flintoff comeback delayed as England opt for stability
The sizeable shadow of Andrew Flintoff will hang large over the England dressing room during next week's first Test against South Africa. Flintoff was omitted from Lord's as England named an unchanged squad, a decision that will, fitness permitting, result in Michael Vaughan's side becoming the first Test team to field the same 11 players for six consecutive matches.
The run is unlikely to stretch to seven because the big man is expected to return for the second Test at Headingley on 18 July. It is a prospect that will be noted by several members of Vaughan's side. The most vulnerable are Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, both of whom need a significant score at the home of cricket to avoid the axe. If the pair bat together the running between the wickets could be interesting.
Should England opt for four rather than five bowlers in Leeds James Anderson and Stuart Broad become potential casualties. Omitting either fast bowler would be harsh but England, as Geoff Miller, the chief selector, said at yesterday's announcement "are a better side with a fully fit Andrew Flintoff in it.
"We have had long chats with Andrew and are in constant communication with him," said Miller. "He knows exactly where we are at and that he needs to get a few more miles in his legs and few more runs with the bat. We need to see a little bit more from him, it's just a matter of him getting the miles in.
"International cricket is an intense game and we are looking for Andrew to be involved in Test, one-day and Twenty20 cricket. And because of that it is essential we monitor him properly, we want him to be involved for a long time. He has got a chance for the second Test and we will reassess the team during the first Test, but our focus is now on that match."
England's 30-man provisional squad for September's Champions Trophy in Pakistan, which was announced yesterday too, threw up a couple of intriguing issues. The first surrounds Collingwood, the current one-day captain. England maintain that Collingwood is their one-day leader moving forward but he is yet to be confirmed as captain for the tournament, a decision that suggests the selectors are not totally convinced he is the man to bring the team limited-overs success.
Collingwood's four-match ban for slow over rates will not have helped his cause, nor the controversial run out of New Zealand's Grant Elliott during last week's one-dayer at The Oval. A slow over rate implies indecision, a trait a captain can ill afford in the limited overs game.
The most welcome addition to the squad is Simon Jones, the forgotten man of England's Ashes triumph. Jones has not played for England since the Trent Bridge Test of 2005, and many feared the knee injury he sustained during a tour of India would end his career. Glamorgan, his team for 12 years, doubted him and a move to Worcestershire followed, but after more than 30 months of heartache he is back in the England set up.
"It is such a great feeling to be back," admitted Jones. "I've worked hard all winter and this season I've kept my head down and tried to bowl as well as I can. It is nice to know the selectors have noticed me. The last couple of years have been a bit of a write off and I wasn't quite ready last year. Physically I wasn't up to the demands of cricket.
"But this year I've felt strong. Physically I have felt brilliant and the ball has come out of the hand well, as it has shown in my performances. I have had four or five five-wicket hauls this season and I feel really upbeat about things."
It has not always been the case. There is nothing more depressing for a sportsman than a long term, career-threatening injury. "On your bad days you do think negatively sometimes, but the way this year's started and the new lease of life I've had at Worcester has really got me going and I feel I'm back near to where I was," Jones added. "My lowest point was probably last year, when things were going wrong. I'd worked so hard to get where I needed to be and it wasn't going right for me and that is when I started to doubt myself. But I've come back this season and things have clicked for me so I'm not going to look back too much now, I'm going to look forward.
"The knee is fine, I ice it religiously, but I've had no gyp whatsoever, and that is such a good feeling to have. I don't see any reason why I couldn't play a Test match tomorrow if they needed me too. I bowled 37 overs in the last game and I feel fine for it."
When asked Miller admitted that Jones, who has taken 26 championship wickets in five matches, has a chance of playing Test cricket for England this summer if he stays fit and continues to take wickets.
England's Test & One-day squads
England squad for the first Test (of four) v South Africa at Lord's, 10-14 July:
M P Vaughan (capt) (Yorks), A N Cook (Essex), A J Strauss (Middlesex), K P Pietersen (Hants), I R Bell (Warwicks), P D Collingwood (Durham), T R Ambrose (wkt) (Warwicks), S J Broad (Notts), R J Sidebottom (Notts), J M Anderson (Lancs), M S Panesar (Northants), C T Tremlett (Hants)
England's provisional 30-man squad for September's ICC Champions Trophy in Pakistan:
T R Ambrose (wkt) (Warwicks), J M Anderson (Lancs), I R Bell (Warwicks), R S Bopara (Essex), T T Bresnan (Yorks), S C J Broad (Notts), M A Carberry (Hants), P D Collingwood (Durham), A N Cook (Essex), A Flintoff (Lancs), S P Jones (Worcs), E C Joyce (Middlesex), R W T Key (Kent), S I Mahmood (Lancs), A D Mascarenhas (Hants), P Mustard, G Onions (both Durham), M S Panesar (Northants), S R Patel, D J Pattinson (both Notts), K P Pietersen (Hants), L E Plunkett (Durham), M J Prior (Sussex), O A Shah (Middlesex), R J Sidebottom (Notts), A J Strauss (Middlesex), G P Swann (Notts), J C Tredwell (Kent), C T Tremlett (Hants), LJ Wright (Sussex).
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