Injuries and conditions make for selection dilemma
A tour of Bangladesh was never intended to be this complicated. And yet, a spate of injuries, an absent skipper, a star player who cannot buy a run, and an unfamiliar surface that may lend itself to a two-spin attack has England's preparations for the first Test at Chittagong in a state of undeniable flux.
By the time the warm-up match at Chittagong had been concluded, the only players in the 17-man party who could safely be ruled out of contention were the reserve wicketkeeper, Steve Davies, and Graham Onions, whose back injury prevented him from bowling for yet another day. Luke Wright, who did not feature even after the match ceased to be first-class, is also way down the pecking order, along with Liam Plunkett, who was outflanked on the seam-bowling front by the squad's new additions, Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn.
However, every other player in the squad has a better-than-average chance of playing in the Test, including the senior seamer, Stuart Broad, whose injured back stood up to nine overs in the nets today - six at lunch, three at tea - and who will be given a sterner work-out on Wednesday, assuming he comes through the night with no adverse reaction.
"These are the sorts of things that made the job interesting and challenging," said England's coach, Andy Flower. "Sometimes it pans out that selection is really simple. In this instance I don't think it is, because of injury and because conditions are a little different to what we're used to."
On a peculiar day made memorable by some pie-chucking of the highest order from Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry, there were undoubted winners and losers in the England camp, and while Kevin Pietersen's continued travails emerged as the main talking point once again, Flower confirmed that there was no scenario in which he could possibly be left out, despite a tally of 69 runs in seven innings.
Instead, the man who appeared to have dropped the baton was Carberry, who had the chance to claim the vacancy left by Andrew Strauss at the top of the order, but who followed up his first-innings 5 with a punchy but insubstantial 35 from 28 balls. Afterwards, Flower was typically cagey about the permutations of England's selection, but implied that Jonathan Trott, who impressed with a century on the second day of the match, was also being earmarked to go in alongside Cook.
The biggest winner of the day was the 20-year-old Middlesex seamer, Finn, who did not arrive in Bangladesh until the eve of the warm-up match, yet showed no ill-effects whatsoever as he bagged three wickets in 18 overs across the two innings, including a beauty to remove Bangladesh's star performer, Raqibul Hasan, in a hostile burst on the third morning. Though he had initially been called up as cover for the injuries to Broad and Onions, Flower confirmed he would not be stood down again, regardless of how the senior bowlers progressed.
"I thought both Finn and Bresnan bowled really well in the first hour today, on a pitch that wasn't doing a hell of a lot, so they are obviously strong contenders for the first Test," Flower added. "I thought Finn was very impressive over the last three days. I don't know how raw he is, but he's obviously young. And he showed a lot of skill in what he did. He bowled a nice line, and he's got that pace and bounce that all captains are looking for."
As for Kevin Pietersen, his discomfort with the conditions has scarcely eased following a more free-flowing, if familiarly brief, innings this afternoon. He finished up with 20 from 22 balls, having been greeted inevitably by the left-arm spin of Mehrab Hossain Jr (whom he drilled through the covers for four in his only over). He is doubtless well aware that the Bangladeshi selectors have named no fewer than three left-armers in their 14-man squad, including Shakib and Abdur Razzak, who between them claimed his wicket in each of the three ODIs.
Flower, however, continued with the familiar party line when quizzed on KP's form, even as the man went through his paces in the nets behind him. "I thought he looked quite good out there in the middle today," he said. "He batted really nicely against the seam, and played straight, batted aggressively against the spin and looked good, and it was a pity he didn't spend three hours out there, instead of half-an-hour.
"Like most world-class players he does spend a lot of time in the nets, and a lot of hard work and thought is going into his game. I still expect good things from him in this Test match."
Possible England team 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Jonathan Trott, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Stuart Broad, 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Tredwell, 11 Steven Finn.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.