Harmison looks to have failed first test

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The Independent Online

Each evening the wooden benches on the promenade opposite England's team hotel are filled by cuddling, giggling, courting couples who whisper sweet nothings in each other's ears. Peter Moores, the England coach, is unlikely to use such an approach when he informs five members of his 16-man squad that they are not playing in Sunday's final warm-up game before the first Test, but, on hearing of their rejection, there are sure to be at least a couple of disappointed young men.

In an attempt to ensure that those omitted do not become too dejected, Moores and Michael Vaughan, the captain, have stated that the team for tomorrow's match against a President's XI here may not contain the 11 players who will play in Kandy, yet it is hard to believe that this will be the case. England's tour itinerary has given them little time to acclimatise to Sri Lankan conditions and every player should want to play in the three-day game.

Kandy is a venue that provides a pitch that is supposed to have more pace and bounce than any other here. With that in mind England will probably pick only one spinner tomorrow, and he must be Monty Panesar. Neither spinner impressed in the opening warm-up game, but Graeme Swann needs to keep practising hard because he will be needed in the second and third Test.

Ryan Sidebottom has been England's best seamer and both he and Matthew Hoggard look certain to play in Kandy. That leaves Stephen Harmison, James Anderson and Stuart Broad fighting for one spot. Harmison has been the least impressive so Anderson and Broad may find themselves competing for the final bowling place in the Test side.

The only other contentious position is that of the sixth batsmen. Had the first Test been in Galle, a ground where England are expected to play two spinners and two fast bowlers, Ravi Bopara's little seamers may have gained him selection ahead of Owais Shah. But the Test is not in Galle and England are likely to play three seamers. Shah, an excellent player of spin, should play.

Moores will not face the unpleasant task of relaying bad news to his players after this winter's tours. From April 2008 the England and Wales Cricket Board, on the recommendation of the Schofield Review Group, will be employing a full-time National Selector who will be required to travel with the side on overseas tours as well as direct events at home.

The appointment was recommended following last winter's disastrous Ashes tour when the selection policy at home was kicked into touch by Duncan Fletcher, the then coach, and Andrew Flintoff, the captain. Before England left for Australia, Panesar was England's first-choice spinner and Chris Read was the wicketkeeper, yet neither played in the opening two Tests.

The move means that David Graveney, the current chairman of selectors, will have to apply and be interviewed, along with other applicants, for the new position. In the past Graveney has appeared randomly on tours, often when a travel agent has invited him to host a group containing England supporters. There has also been the ludicrous situation of him being in the city where England were playing yet not getting involved in selection. Then the protocol stipulated that, bar the replacement of an injured player, his responsibilities ended once the touring side had been announced.

Graveney is due to arrive in Sri Lanka on Sunday and will be involved in the selection of the team for the first Test. It is not ideal; he should have been here to watch all the warm-up games to gauge the form of players. In future there can be no excuses. The ECB will also appoint two England selectors who will be employed on a part-time basis. It will be their job to travel around the counties identifying players who are capable of playing for England, the England Lions, the England Performance Centre and England Under-19. The applicants need to have significant experience of international and first-class cricket.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have named a 14-man squad for the first Test against England starting at Kandy on 1 December. Opener Upul Tharanga, who hit a hundred against Vaughan's side this week after being recalled from the tour of Australia, is included but Tillakaratne Dilshan has once again been left out. Tharanga will be vying with Jehan Mubarak for the batting position vacated by the recently retired Marvan Atapattu.

Possible England team to face: M Vaughan (Yorkshire), A Cook (Essex), I Bell (Warwickshire), K Pietersen (Hampshire), P Collingwood (Durham), O Shah (Middlesex), M Prior (Sussex), S Broad (Nottinghamshire), M Hoggard (Yorkshire), M Panesar (Northamptonshire), J Anderson (Lancashire).

Sri Lanka Test squad

For first Test v England: D P M S Jayawardene (captain), S T Jayasuriya, W U Tharanga, M G Vandort, K C Sangakkara, L P C Silva, J Mubarak, H A P W Jayawardene (wicketkeeper), M Muralitharan, W P U J C Vaas, C R D Fernando, S L Malinga, C M Bandara, W R S de Silva.


1-5 Dec First Test (Asgiria Stadium, Kandy)

9-13 Dec Second Test (Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, Colombo)

18-22 Dec Third Test (International Stadium, Galle)