Spin options for England ahead of tour


England will doubtless feel the need for an extra spin option at
their disposal when they set out next month to play Pakistan in the
unfamiliar climes of the United Arab Emirates.

It seems opportunity will therefore knock for at least one of three hopefuls when the selectors announce their squad for the three-Test series tomorrow morning.

Samit Patel and Scott Borthwick are uncapped, while Monty Panesar has not played for England since his tail-end defiance with the bat helped to salvage a last-ditch draw in Cardiff at the start of the 2009 Ashes series victory.

Panesar lost his central contract at the end of that summer too. But like 21-year-old leg-spinner Borthwick and his fellow left-arm orthodox Patel - whose strongest suit is his middle-order batting - Panesar turns the ball in the opposite direction to England's first-choice spinner Graeme Swann.

All three are sure to come into prominent consideration for that reason, despite the uncertainties surrounding each.

Borthwick, also a handy batsman, brings risks as well as promise purely on the basis that he is an inexperienced leg-spinner - a tag which screams vulnerability.

Patel was welcomed back into the England fold only last year after a long absence during which selectors and coaching staff made it clear they were dissatisfied with the Nottinghamshire all-rounder's general fitness levels.

He was a qualified, and rare, success in England's 5-0 one-day international defeat in India in October - when the management nonetheless appeared equivocal about Patel's physical preparations, which may still be a work in progress.

Panesar has gradually begun to hint at some of the old form which brought him 39 Test caps, since his move from Northamptonshire to Sussex two years ago.

The perceived need for an extra specialist spinner on the arid pitches expected in Dubai and Abu Dhabi means England may have to compromise, in a likely 16-man squad, in other areas.

The inclusion of Patel, good enough to be picked as an extra batsman who could help Swann with the ball, may help to solve that problem.

But otherwise, a regular seamer or back-up wicketkeeper could miss out on England's bid to consolidate new-found International Cricket Council number one status against tricky opponents in largely unknown conditions.

Word has it in some quarters that both Panesar and deputy wicketkeeper Steve Davies are preferred options, and the selection of the latter - who is a frontline batsman too - would create room in England's deliberations for an extra bowler.

Among the seamers, it is inconceivable that either James Anderson or fit-again Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan will not be picked to lead the attack.

But the scrap between Steven Finn, so singularly impressive in that otherwise miserable ODI tour of India, and Chris Tremlett as a back-up pace option is a much closer call.

Tremlett was winning the race during England's climb to the top of the world rankings last summer, until succumbing to a back injury before the second Test at Trent Bridge - where Bresnan replaced him to great effect, with bat as well as ball.

Tremlett has excelled for England when extra bounce has been available - in Perth during last winter's Ashes, and on his former home pitch at the Rose Bowl against Sri Lanka in June.

It is hard to envisage steepling bounce in the Middle East, whatever height the ball is delivered from, and Finn's out-and-out increased pace - albeit on surfaces which are expected to be very slow - therefore sounds like a more potent weapon.

It is a measure of England's Test match standing that there will surely be precious few surprises in the list of names announced to accompany captain Andrew Strauss tomorrow, and the first-choice batting line-up is set in stone.

Eoin Morgan's return to fitness, after shoulder surgery, means he will be back at the likely expense of Ravi Bopara.

Possible squad from (v Pakistan for three Tests in January and February in the United Arab Emirates): AJ Strauss (captain), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, TT Bresnan, GP Swann, JM Anderson, ST Finn, SR Patel, MS Panesar, SM Davies (wkt), CT Tremlett.


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