England set to reveal Ashes selection clues

All the familiar conundrums have been discussed. Five batsmen or six, four bowlers or five. This will have led naturally on to one spinner or two and having reached that point the selectors will have moved seamlessly to the daddy of them all: a wicketkeeper who can bat or a batsman who can keep.

On those conversations at the weekend the destiny of the Ashes may depend and today England will give something slightly more than a hint of their intentions, something slightly less than conclusive evidence. They will name two teams of 11 and one squad of 15.

The first of these, to be called England, will play Warwickshire in a three-day warm-up match the week before the Ashes series starts. The second of them, the England Lions, will play the Australians in a four-day match beginning on the same day. The third, the squad, will form an Ashes camp and it is these players who can most anticipate playing some part in the forthcoming campaign.

It is reasonable to assume, no more, that the XI named to face Warwickshire will be the XI who face Australia in the first Test at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, a week later. These selectors do not give much away, protecting their proceedings and their upshot as if they were state secrets and conveniently forgetting their obligations to the public. Determination not to let the Aussies know too much is their thinking. The Aussies will know soon enough.

At this late stage it is improbable that England will change direction. This means that they are likely to play five specialist batsmen with Matthew Prior (below), who averages 117 there, at number six. There would then be five bowlers, the device by which England last won the Ashes, and with which they feel most comfortable, with the restored Andrew Flintoff going in at seven instead of six.

After that, they have to decide whether to take the bold option of playing two spinners. If so, should they be Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, who looked the part together in Trinidad in March, or Swann and Adil Rashid, the cut of whose jib is admired in high places? Panesar has apparently been a forlorn figure around Northamptonshire so far this season and his bowling has been ordinary at best.

But if the selectors play safe, and they may, they will presumably have Ryan Sidebottom's left-arm swing to supplement Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. This would be tough on Graham Onions who barely put a foot wrong in his two Tests against the West Indies, but you can see where the selectors are coming from.

There is another option, the high-risk one of having only four bowlers so they can play six batsmen. Ian Bell, extremely successful at six, would come in. Anderson, Broad, Flintoff and Swann would form the attack and Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara and Kevin Pietersen might have to bowl more overs than they or England might like.

But it would also open the tantalising possibility of changing wicketkeepers. Flintoff could still bat at seven with James Foster replacing Prior. The exchange rate of catches dropped and runs contributed is a difficult one to compute (beyond even Duckworth-Lewis) but Foster was deeply impressive in his return to the colours in the World Twenty20. He is much better equipped behind the stumps than Prior but Prior is obviously the superior batsman. Where do the twain converge?

If the selectors stick to form the Lions will be led by Rob Key. Batsmen are hardly knocking down the door to the selectors' room but Onions, Tim Bresnan and Sajid Mahmood may be the basis of a bowling attack to keep the Australians honest.

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