County cricket has been given the chance to show its worth this week in Nottingham following the selection of four uncapped players in England's 13-man squad for the third Test at Trent Bridge.
Following dismal displays against South Africa in the first two Tests, at Edgbaston and Lord's, the England selectors have been under pressure to shake things up and by selecting Ed Smith, Glen Chapple, Gareth Batty and James Kirtley, there are sure to be at least two changes to the side thrashed a week ago.
This Test squad, the first with which Michael Vaughan has had any input since taking charge, suggests the differences between England's new captain and his predecessor, Nasser Hussain, will stretch further than their alternative styles of leadership. During his four years at the helm Hussain only seriously delved into county cricket for players once. This was on England's tour of South Africa in 1999/2000 when he was new to the job. Chris Adams, Darren Maddy and Gavin Hamilton were selected on the back of their performances in the domestic game but each failed to show they had the necessary credentials.
Since then, much to the chagrin of many followers in the game, the selectors have appeared to take little notice of any runs scored and wickets taken by players playing for their counties. Instead Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, preferred to back their judgement and picked the players they felt had the technique and mental strength to cope with the demands of Test cricket. Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, who had ordinary first-class records for Yorkshire and Somerset respectively before gaining selection, are examples of this system working but Anthony McGrath, who has been dropped from the England squad for this match, is not.
For Smith and Chapple, whose selections owe as much to the injury doubts over Graham Thorpe and James Ormond as the change in direction from the selectors, today will be their first experience of the England set-up. Batty and Kirtley have both played one-day cricket for England in the last nine months.
Aged between 25 and 29 and with plenty of experience behind them, each of the four should be in the prime of their careers after several seasons learning their trade in the County Championship.
After becoming the first batsman to reach 1,000 runs this summer, Smith is certain to play and bat at five. In over 100 first-class games for Kent the right-hander has scored 17 centuries and averages just under 40 with the bat. There is a feeling, however, that Smith, who won a first-class honours degree in history at Cambridge, does not play the short ball particularly well. Against the South African fast-bowler Makhaya Ntini, who took five of his 10 wickets at Lord's with bouncers, the 26-year-old is sure to get a few around his nose.
Chapple has been on the verge of breaking into the England side for several seasons. Bowling away-swingers at a lively pace, the 29-year-old has been a consistent performer for Lancashire since his debut in 1992. The Yorkshireman shot to fame in 1993 when he scored the fastest century in first-class cricket - in 21 minutes - even though it was against declaration bowling. However, it was when he took 6 for 18 in the 1996 NatWest Trophy Final against Essex that he first caught the eye of the selectors.
'A' Tours followed but Chapple owes his selection to his excellent fitness record as well as his bowling, which, with 27 wickets at an average of 37 runs apiece this season, has been disappointing.
It is unlikely that Batty will play ahead of Ashley Giles, even though the Warwickshire spinner has looked ineffective for England this summer. The presence of the Worcestershire off-spinning all-rounder will put Giles under pressure, though, and give England the option of a bowler who spins the ball away from Graeme Smith's broad bat.
If there is any justice, Kirtley should make the final XI at Trent Bridge. The skiddy right-arm bowler may have an action that will come under scrutiny from the match referee, but having been cleared of throwing he deserves the chance to fill Darren Gough's role. In each of the previous five seasons the 29-year-old has taken more than 50 wickets for Sussex and, with 49 to his name this summer, he is sure to make it it six out of six.
These additions to the squad have taken some pressure off the selectors to drop Alec Stewart, yet he needs to produce something special over the next week if he is to fulfill his goal of finishing his Test career at The Oval.
ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THIRD TEST
M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt) Age 28 Caps 32
M E Trescothick (Somerset) Age 27 Caps 35
M A Butcher (Surrey) Age 30 Caps 54
N Hussain (Essex) Age 35 Caps 84
E T Smith (Kent) Age 26 Caps 0
A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt) Age 40 Caps 130
A Flintoff (Lancashire) Age 25 Caps 23
A F Giles (Warwickshire) Age 30 Caps 23
G J Batty (Worcestershire) Age 25 Caps 0
S J Harmison (Durham) Age 24 Caps 9
J M Anderson (Lancashire) Age 21 Caps 4
R J Kirtley (Sussex) Age 29 Caps 0
G Chapple (Lancashire) Age 29 Caps 0
Play starts at Trent Bridge, 10.45am, Thursday. C4.
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