Wright in line to make Test debut
Flower hints at all-rounder batting at No 7 but wants Anderson to prove his fitness
Wednesday 09 December 2009
England already have a fair idea of what their team will be for the first Test. In accordance with their strictly observed protocol, however, they have no intention of revealing their intention and no amount of persuasive methods will change their minds.
On these occasions the coach, Andy Flower, and captain, Andrew Strauss, tend to adopt a policy of revealing only their rank, name and number for fear of alerting the opposition to anything else. Thus, the first of the successive two-day games which begins here today will be less a serious examination of credentials than the platform for a guessing game.
Flower conceded yesterday that he and Strauss have already formulated the probable XI they would like to play at Centurion next week and it is difficult to see how any player in the course of these warm-ups against a South Africa Invitation XI can make a convincing case one way or the other.
"Yes we have a reasonable idea but we have options depending on conditions," he said. "I am not going to tell you now and we haven't seen the conditions at Centurion."
The options come down to what they always are: play five bowlers or four, five batsmen or six. A clue can be gleaned from the teams that England have fielded under Flower and Strauss in the past. Only once in 12 matches have they selected a team with four bowlers and since that was in Barbados earlier this year when England made 600 for 6 and West Indies responded with 749 for 9, they may not be anxious to do it again.
This suggests that the uncapped 24-year-old Sussex all rounder Luke Wright has not been brought along for the ride and his workload in this week's matches will offer an indication.
"Wright's a possibility, yes," said Flower without committing himself. "He always seems to make contributions in one-day cricket. It might be a great one-handed catch, or a quick 20 off 12 balls, or he picks up an important wicket as he did through the series and even in the warm-up games.
"He still has a long way to go before he becomes a fully-fledged, skilful Test cricketer but he is an option for us at No 7 as someone who can bowl useful overs and make a breakthrough."
If Stuart Broad, who has done the job before, presents another option it also might expose a long tail which England would be reluctant to do at the start of the series. To go 1-0 down after one, away from home in a four-match series, would make life extremely tough. Flower and Strauss will remember only too well the outcome after that happened in the Caribbean: 1-0 stayed 1-0.
Selection may also be influenced by injury. Jimmy Anderson is sitting out the first of this week's matches to allow the injection in his troublesome knee to take effect. Anderson has now had the knee injected three times on this tour – without the injury being properly identified – but the last one at the weekend appears to have been more effective in dulling the pain.
Ryan Sidebottom's side strain will also force him to miss today's match, although he bowled yesterday and is expected to be take his place on Friday. Although Flower would not rule it out, it would be difficulty for either of them to play at Centurion without some sort of full workout here. "They are both experienced enough to be able to go into a Test without a huge amount of bowling under their belt but the ideal situation is they bowl here," said Flower. "If Jim does not come through this two-day game well then that would be a problem for the Test. We want him to play here, definitely."
England's second spinner, Adil Rashid, has stayed with the Performance Squad in Pretoria to give him another four-day match, although he has no chance of making the Test side.
Play today is still doubtful following perpetual rain which eased yesterday. The Buffalo Park pitch was covered by a makeshift tent under which were hot air blowers drying out the surface.
* Joe Denly scored 188 not out for the England Performance Programme XI against Nashua Titans Presidents XI in Pretoria yesterday. EPP finished the first day on 345 for 7.
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