Lions' seamers display their bite

England Lions 493-8 dec Sri Lanka 240-7
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The Independent Online

England's selectors spent much of yesterday in a small, glass-fronted room in the Derby pavilion.

They were accompanied for most of the time by various other functionaries from the England and Wales Cricket Board and given that the squad for the first Test had probably been picked earlier and the winter debriefing took place last week they might have been discussing the price of fish (a bit steep, actually).

Since they all appear to have signed a pledge of discretion, it is difficult to be sure what goes on these days in the selectors' meetings. They would prefer never to reveal the names of their team, ever, in the same way that groundsmen begrudge anybody actually playing on their surfaces. They worry needlessly about opponents knowing too much.

But considering that attention to detail has been an integral part of their recent operations, medium and long-term strategy might also have been on the agenda. On the occasions when they looked up, they can only have been pleased with what they saw.

England Lions gave the Sri Lankans the runaround on the second day of the tour match and confirmed the current depth of the country's fast bowling resources. Rotation is one of those long-cherished ideals in the picking of international teams, precluded until now only by not having sufficient practitioners of appropriate class.

In two sessions of purposeful work, the Lions showed that it may be more than a pipedream. If implementing it remains a decidedly different proposition from discussing it (who would dare rotate the chap who has just taken 10 wickets to win a Test?) there are now serious options.

Graham Onions, who recently returned after a 15-month absence caused by operations on his back and knee, was as splendidly accurate as he was before his long lay-off. When players are injured they drop off the radar because others have to get on with it and England got on with it well enough to win the Ashes without Onions.

With two characteristically accurate, nagging spells yesterday he was back on it. He got one wicket, he might have had a few more, and he had a catch dropped at slip, reinforcing the suspicion that he does not receive his just deserts.

Onions was not alone. Steve Finn shared the new ball and was more fluent than during last year's Ashes. The slipperiest member of the attack was Jade Dernbach whose first spell brought him three for 34 from 10 overs and who finished with 5 for 44, twice taking two wickets in two balls, the sort of stuff designed to concentrate minds.

Then there was Ajmal Shahzad, who removed both Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, in an equally incisive spell. Sri Lanka fell limply from 59 without loss to 97 for six in 12 overs, finding the seaming ball too difficult to cope with.

While all these bowlers are likely to have featured in the selectors' deliberations, even at such a late stage, only one is likely to be in the squad for the first Test that will be announced tomorrow. It will contain 12 names, the XI who will play and a spare seamer.

Rarely can the selectors' jobs have been so pleasantly arduous despite the Sri Lankans' partial late recovery. Thursday's Test match will be the first that England have played since that memorable day in Sydney early last January when they sealed a 3-1 win in the Ashes. Pick the winning chaps and move on to next business.

Paul Collingwood's retirement and Stuart Broad's return might have extended their deliberations. The batting place will go to Ravi Bopara despite Eoin Morgan's bravura innings, which he expanded to 193 yesterday.

It means that Morgan will return to the Indian Premier League for the final stages which, he should take note, elicited a note of surprise from the corridors of power yesterday. What, for instance, if a batsman were to break a finger in the Cardiff nets and Morgan was in Mumbai? On such geographical matters are careers spoiled. Bopara deserves his opportunity and if the selectors were minded otherwise, his capable change bowling would have won him the argument.

Broad will take over from Tim Bresnan, the extra seamer will probably be Shahzad, not Finn with Onions sent back for continuing if rapid bowling rehabilitation at Durham.

Heading to Cardiff

Probable England squad for the first Test v Sri Lanka, Cardiff, 26-30 May:

AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, RS Bopara, MJ Prior, SCJ Broad, GP Swann, CT Tremlett, JM Anderson, A Shahzad.

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