England named five uncapped players yesterday in an oddly balanced squad, but one leapt off the team sheet. In picking Ajmal Shahzad, the 24-year-old Yorkshire all-rounder for the tour of Bangladesh next month, the selectors hope, perhaps pray, that they have alighted on what is known in their trade as a crackerjack cricketer.
Shahzad made enormous strides last summer after four seasons of sporadic appearances and gradual progress. He was impressive again in the recent England Performance Programme in South Africa: he is quick and slippery as a bowler, he sets himself well as a batsman, his assurance has grown.
"He's passed an awful lot of tests," said the National Selector, Geoff Miller. "He did well for Yorkshire last year and that is why he was given the chance to come to the performance squad and show what he is capable of. We just want to know whether he can take that on a step further."
The selectors are clearly prepared to fast-track Shahzad now. Only last November he failed to make the A list of players who were seen to be close to graduating to Test cricket and has overtaken the two fast bowlers it contained, Mark Davies and Amjad Khan.
Shahzad was the first Yorkshire-born Asian to represent the county in 2004 aged 18. But if he did not exactly stall, nor were Yorkshire enthusiastic about him. He did not establish a place until last summer when he took 40 Championship wickets at 34.40. He also averaged 32 with the bat.
There were 16 names in the Test squad which will play two matches against Bangladesh and 15 in the limited-overs party which will play three one-day internationals following two Twenty20 matches in the United Arab Emirates. Alastair Cook will be captain of the party for the first time in place of Andrew Strauss who has been a given a controversial break – though Paul Collingwood will lead in the two T20 games – and the fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson has been rested for treatment on a troublesome right knee.
The squad contains six seam bowlers including Shahzad, but only two spinners, which might be a risk on the slow Bangladeshi pitches. Graeme Swann and James Tredwell, off break bowlers both, are also likely to play. Tredwell, who is in both parties, has not yet played for England in any form of the game.
The other uncapped Test players are Michael Carberry of Hampshire, who was flown out as a replacement batsman on the tour of South Africa which ended in a defeat in the fourth Test on Sunday, reserve wicketkeeper Steven Davies and all-rounder Luke Wright.
"We did discuss taking only two spinners," said Miller. "It is only a two-match series, it is not as though it is a massive four- or five-match series and we don't want a lot of players hanging about. It was a difficult equation, but we just thought we'd take two."
The decision probably had as much to do with the continuing dearth of spin bowling in England as formulated policy. There is no place for Adil Rashid, who was picked for the tour of South Africa and has spent 10 weeks largely as a net bowler. The selectors have also omitted left-arm spinner Monty Panesar again, citing the number of left-handed batsman in the Bangladesh side. Still, the justification for not wishing to have spin bowlers hanging around twiddling their thumbs is hardly supported by the top-heavy seam contingent, most of whom will be underworked.
"We need to have a look at one or two of the bowlers and this is the time to do that," said Miller. "We want to create a squad as much as possible. It is not about a team any more it is about a squad and strength in depth."
Graham Onions, the fall guy in England's last Test match in South Africa when he was dropped for Ryan Sidebottom, can consider himself unlucky once more. He is in the Test squad but has been overlooked for the one-day squad. The selectors often talk about consistency. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.Reuse content