England selected a squad to win the Ashes yesterday. There were no surprises beyond the mild, merely a restatement of the obvious which has served them so well in the past 18 months, but no surprises are needed. There was a general sense that familiarity will breed ultimate contentment by January.
The expected names are joined by the left-arm spinner Monty Panesar and the fast bowler Chris Tremlett. Both players are returning to the fold but neither of them will be in line to play in the first Test in Brisbane on 25 November. The nearest thing to a shock was the preferment of Tim Bresnan, all of five Test caps, to his Yorkshire colleague Ajmal Shahzad, all of one, and the omission of Adil Rashid, the county's leg-spinner, not only from the main squad but from the support Performance Programme squad as well.
The team in Australia will be captained by Andrew Strauss, whose stock has risen yet again in the past month, as he has dealt with the fall-out of the Pakistani tour, being statesmanlike, pragmatic and wise. He will lead England well this winter and they are fortunate to have him.
Strauss will require all those qualities and more (rat-like cunning may also assist) if he is to return home with the urn retained. His official deputy will be Alastair Cook, who was effectively playing for his place a month ago, and is clearly now the heir apparent, having been captain in Bangladesh earlier this year when Strauss was rested.
Tremlett and Panesar are the only players from outside this summer's squads to force their way in. The last of Tremlett's three Test matches so far was against India in 2007 when he looked every inch (and there are 79 of them) a Test bowler. Only recurrent injury has prevented his being considered since, but his move to Surrey this year from his native Hampshire has reaped the necessary dividends.
Characteristically, he was out injured for the first month which prompted knowing glances, but he has performed since with consistent venom and finished with 48 inexpensive wickets. He has always had something and a flourishing two or three seasons in Test cricket remains a distinct prospect.
A move of counties has worked too for Panesar, who pitched up at Sussex after spending his career at Northamptonshire. It has served its purpose and Panesar, who played the most recent of his 39 Tests when he helped to save the day in the first Test against Australia at Cardiff in July 2009, took 52 wickets at 25 which made him impossible to overlook.
As is his wont, the chairman of selectors, Geoff Miller, gave little away about the deliberations. But the inclusion of Tremlett ahead of Shahzad was perhaps the least straightforward of the two. Shahzad has been beaten to the Ashes post by Bresnan, who has not set the world alight this summer but has somehow become a reassuring presence to have around.
"Clearly there are always difficult decisions to make when selecting an England squad and this Ashes squad was no different," said Miller. "We feel that Chris Tremlett's inclusion will add a real threat of pace and bounce to our bowling attack given the conditions in Australia.
"We feel that following an excellent season with Sussex Monty Panesar deserves his opportunity to assume the role as England's second spinner behind Graeme Swann. Monty has gone away and worked on his bowling since his last England appearance and he continues to be an attacking threat with the ball in his hand."
The squad otherwise is business as usual. There is only one uncapped Test player, Steven Davies, who will travel as reserve wicketkeeper and has been quietly impressing in the limited-overs side this past month. The composition was exactly as anticipated: seven batsmen, five fast bowlers, two wicketkeepers and two spinners.
Much of the time between now and Brisbane will be spent trying to name the XI, on the basis of six batsmen, a keeper, three seamers and a spinner. The chief topic of debate will be among the batsmen. Ian Bell is ready to return, which might well mean no place for Eoin Morgan, for all his virtues. But if Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood were to have poor runs in the games beforehand, their places would come under scrutiny.
The three fast bowlers seem certain this far out, but it is also true Tremlett has turned the head of many judges. If he offers similar merits to those of Steve Finn, it may also be true that at 29 to 21 he knows the game better.
Apart from the 16-strong Ashes cadre, the selectors, for whom this is their busiest time, also named yesterday another 16 players to form the Performance Programme squad who will be in Australia during the Ashes, effectively as understudies. The most striking names in this were Jonny Bairstow, son of David, the former Yorkshire and England wicketkeeper, Danny Briggs, the Hampshire left-arm spinner, Adam Lyth, the Yorkshire opening batsman, and Ben Stokes, the Durham all-rounder. Lyth is the oldest of the quartet at 23 this week. Four of 16 are Yorkshiremen and it remains a good sign for English cricket when that is so. Shahzad and Andrew Gale make up the quartet.
In addition to all this activity, central contracts have also been offered to 11 players and incremental contracts to a further four, of whom three including Ravi Bopara will not be going to Australia while the Ashes series is being played. Jonathan Trott and Finn are the players awarded central contracts for the first time. It is expected at long last that the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Professional Cricketers' Association have concluded contract negotiations for the next three years. They have been unsigned for the past 12 months.
It will be a tough winter, the toughest of all because of the mythical aura that surrounds the prize on offer. But yesterday it was possible to feel that the beauty, joy and wonders of cricket were being celebrated once more.
England Performance Programme Squad J C Adams (Hants), J M Bairstow (Yorks), D R Briggs, M A Carberry (both Hants), M A Chambers (Essex), J W Dernbach (Surrey), A W Gale (Yorks), J C Hildreth, C Kieswetter (both Somerset), A Lyth (Yorks), L E Plunkett (Durham), A Shahzad (Yorks), B A Stokes (Durham), J W A Taylor (Leics), J C Tredwell (Kent), C R Woakes (Warks).
The squad of 16 charged with retaining The Ashes
Monty Panesar Sussex
Age 28 Tests: 39 Bowl ave: 34.37, Bat ave: 5.50 Best Ashes 5-92 (Perth, 2006)
Chris Tremlett Hampshire
Age 29 Tests: 3 Bowl ave: 29.69, Bat ave: 12.50 Best Ashes: n/a
I J L Trott Warwickshire
Age 29 Tests: 13, Bat ave: 55.00 Bowl ave: 86.00 Best Ashes: 119 (Oval, 2009)
K P Pietersen Unattached
Age 30 Tests: 66, Bat ave 47.80 Bowl ave: 142.00 Best Ashes: 158 (Oval, 2005)
A J Strauss (c) Middlesex
Age 33 Tests: 77Bat ave: 43.11 Best Ashes: 161 (Lords, 2009)
I R Bell Warwickshire
Age 28 Tests: 57, Bat ave: 42.92 Bowl ave: 76.00 Best Ashes: 87 (Perth, 2006)
A N Cook Essex
Age 25 Tests: 60 Bat ave: 42.78 Best Ashes: 116 (Perth, 2006)
P D Collingwood Durham
Age 34Tests: 63, Bat ave: 42.18 Bowl ave: 63.00 Best Ashes: 206 (Adelaide, 2006)
M J Prior (wkt) Sussex
Age 28 Tests: 35, Bat ave: 42.13Catches/stumpings: 94/4 Best Ashes: 61 (Lord's, 2009)
T T Bresnan Yorkshire
Age 25 Tests: 5, Bowl ave: 35.14 Batt ave: 41.66 Best Ashes: n/a
E J G Morgan Middlesex
Age 24Tests: 6 Bat ave: 32.00 Best Ashes n/a
S C J Broad Notts
Age 24, Tests: 32, Bowl ave: 34.30, Bat ave 28.10 Best Ashes: 6-91 (H'dingley, 2009)
G P Swann Notts
Age 31 Tests: 24, Bowl ave: 26.55, Bat ave: 25.11 Best Ashes 4-38 (Oval, 2009)
J M Anderson Lancashire
Age 28 Tests: 52, Bowl ave: 31.75, Bat ave: 12.55 Best Ashes 5-80 (Edgb'n, 2009)
S T Finn Middlesex
Age 21 Tests: 8, Bowl ave 23.21 Bat ave: 6.50 Best Ashes: n/a
S M Davies (wkt) Surrey
Age: 24 Tests: 0 Best Ashes: n/aReuse content