Muralitharan injury gives England chance to blood Bell

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In an effort to end a run of four Test series without a win, England's selectors will err on the side of caution when they reveal today the squad for next week's first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's.

The desire to gradually introduce younger players will be tempered by the need to make a winning start, and nowhere will this be more apparent than in the selection of Alec Stewart to replace the injured James Foster as wicketkeeper.

Stewart, refreshed after a winter's rest and fully recovered from operations on both elbows, has started the season well for Surrey with two scores in the 90s and some tidy keeping.

Disappointed at having been overlooked for England's recent tour of New Zealand, Stewart will feel he has a point to prove and look at this as an opportunity to re-establish himself in the side, not just to act as cover for Foster.

Nobody can question Stewart's pedigree, or worry whether he is still up to the job, but at 39 and in the twilight of his career is he the man to use to fill a hole for two or three Test matches?

Through offering him a central contract, the selectors have decided that 22-year-old Foster is the future, but the selectors should also be looking at other young wicketkeepers. Glamorgan's Mark Wallace and Chris Read from Nottinghamshire are the two that stand out. Wallace has made an encouraging start to the season, scoring two hundreds already, and spent the winter at the National Cricket Academy in Adelaide, so he must be somewhere in the selectors' plans.

The focus on Stewart has diverted attention from one of the brightest talents in English cricket, Ian Bell. The 20-year-old Warwickshire opening batsman, who had an outstanding winter with the Academy, deserves an opportunity and should make his Test debut on Thursday.

However, as with the wicketkeeping dilemma, there may be a temptation to return to the experience of Mark Ramprakash or John Crawley, who has impressed since his controversial move from Lancashire to Hampshire.

Sri Lanka, without the injured Muttiah Muralitharan, have a modest bowling attack and give England the ideal chance to experiment. Even if it means Bell bats slightly out of position at No 6, this opening should not be wasted. Bell is an impressive batsman who on the two occasions I bowled at him last season was organised and calm at the crease. He has no obvious weaknesses, scoring runs all round the wicket off both the front and back foot.

He scored 98 on his only first-class appearance at Lord's and would have scored a hundred but for some sloppy running between the wickets. In the 90s he hit a ball straight down the ground towards the pavilion expecting it to go for four. It pulled up short of the boundary on the incline in front of the pavilion, with only one run being taken instead of the three that were on offer. Those two missed runs cost him a deserved century. If he finds himself in the same position next week, expect to find scorch marks on the pitch.

The only other problem for England is which four fast bowlers to select for what will surely be a seam-dominated Test.

Darren Gough, like all the centrally-contracted players, will be at Lord's, but England must resist the temptation to rush him back into the side. He may be England's talisman and more often than not the first name on Nasser Hussain's team-sheet, but it is too early to consider him following knee surgery. Looking at England's hectic schedule over the next 12 months, it is important to get rid of an injury like this once and for all rather than risk it being an ongoing concern.

Alex Tudor is the obvious pace addition to Andrew Caddick, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff. At long last injury-free, Tudor has had a sound start to the season for Surrey. There is no doubt he has the potential to be a high-quality cricketer. He has the ability to change the course of a game, but the one thing he needs to do is convince himself, and the rest of us, that he is capable of playing a full series.

With England likely to play four seamers, Steve Harmison from Durham or Simon Jones from Glamorgan are likely to be invited along as cover.

ENGLAND (probable squad) First Test v Sri Lanka, Lord's, Thursday: N Hussain (capt), M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, I R Bell, A J Stewart (wkt), A Flintoff, A F Giles, A J Tudor, A R Caddick, M J Hoggard, S P Jones.

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