England have made only one amendment to the squad which lost the Test series to Sri Lanka. For that to continue they must start winning quickly against India, preferably in the opening Test which starts at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.
Ben Stokes, the effervescent Durham all-rounder, was at last added to the party which will gather in Nottingham on Sunday.
The selection does not guarantee Stokes a place in the starting XI, but after his omission from the first Test series of the summer it would merely continue the perversity were the solitary shining success of a dreadful winter to continue to be overlooked.
Stokes is one of six seam bowlers in a party which contains no front-line spinner. If this shows that the cupboard in English cricket is strangely stocked, the selectors are, in a way, planning for the future.
As far as they can see, no slow bowler is likely to warrant serious attention any time soon, which means the workload on four seamers is set to be gruelling. The upshot almost certainly will be fatigue and injury
James Whitaker, the national selector, said: “We have got five Test matches in a very short space of time and one of the reasons to include six seamers is that we believe at some stage they’re all going to play.
“At the start of the series while they’re talking about the Indians and strategy and tactics, it makes sense to include that group so they get the first-hand knowledge straightaway in the build-up.”
Moeen Ali will continue to be entrusted with most of the team’s spinning but India will hardly be losing any sleep about that. Despite his wonderful rearguard hundred at Headingley in the second Test against Sri Lanka, Moeen’s bowling is another matter.
It clearly does not have the unequivocal support of the captain, Alastair Cook, while the country’s other spinners palpably lack Whitaker’s support. “We have recognised since Graeme Swann retired that our balance and make-up of the team will have to change,” said Whitaker. “He was a mighty good player, but in England we have decided to go with the balance of the team at the moment that has Moeen bowling the spin along with Joe Root and we have the option of the seamers to help the balance.
“Who knows how good Moeen can be? In an ideal world Graeme Swann plays, someone with that experience and quality. All spinners playing in England at the moment will realise they haven’t got that but we have to give confidence and as much encouragement to Moeen Ali to produce.”
It is, in its way, a wing and a prayer choice and the figures suggest that Moeen’s off-spin has been much more successful against left-handers than right-handers. Much of the attention at Trent Bridge will be on Cook and his chronic lack of runs but Whitaker made it as plain as he could that there is no prospect of changing the captain.
“Alastair is very confident, he is full of resolve, he is determined to turn things around, he is excited by the blend of youth and experience he has got,” said Whitaker. “He is creating a very good environment and culture with Peter [Moores, the coach] that enables these guys coming into the team to succeed.”
Suggestions from the Kevin Pietersen corner that all is not well in the dressing room were dismissed. “As selectors we are 100 per cent certain that the environment and the culture of the team is growing in a positive way.”
But without a win in eight Tests, Whitaker knows it will have to change rapidly. He was adamant. “England will start winning soon,” he said.
England squad for first Test v India
A N Cook (capt), S D Robson, G S Ballance, I R Bell, J E Root, M M Ali, B A Stokes, M J Prior (wkt), J M Anderson, S C J Broad, C J Jordan, L E Plunkett, C R Woakes.