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June 3, 2010
Assuming England don't take everyone by surprise on Friday morning and change the balance of their side, they have just one selection poser ahead of the second Test against Bangladesh. It's a contest between Ajmal Shahzad, the uncapped Yorkshire paceman, or Ryan Sidebottom to replace the injured Tim Bresnan, and the final decision will provide an insight into the selectors' long-term planning.
Throughout this season England are trying to increase the pool of players from which they can choose for any particular Test. It's part of the reason behind the rotation system which has been implemented, with Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss keen to have a strong squad rather just a strong first XI. With a view to that it's important they learn about new players, which would suggest these next five days are an ideal chance to find out about Shahzad.
He has been part of the England squad since the Twenty20s against Pakistan in Dubai - where he marked his debut with two wickets in his first over before being dismantled by Abdul Razzaq at the end of the run chase - and he later made his ODI debut in Chittagong. However, he has since been overtaken on the Test scene by Steven Finn who leapfrogged him into the starting line-up for the first Test in Chittagong, only a matter of days after stepping off the plane from London.
While playing Sidebottom may be a safer option - and his left-arm angle will also be tempting - the selectors won't learn anything they don't already know, and this may be the last chance in the near future to test Shahzad's credentials, with Stuart Broad expected to return to face Pakistan later in the summer. Shahzad is also a like-for-like replacement for Bresnan with a first-class batting average of 32, and so would be expected to contribute usefully down the order.
"With Ryan we know what we will get, he's a very experienced campaigner, very good in English conditions, very good against left-handers and brings that different angle being a left-armer," said England's captain, Andrew Strauss. "Ajmal we don't know as much about at this stage but are very excited about what we've seen which is why he's been in the squad. He bowls with good pace, keeps running and can swing the ball both ways. It's a choice between youth and experience and we have to decide what is the best way of winning this Test."
Bresnan received encouraging news after his injury was downgraded to a "stress reaction" with "no established fracture" following further scans, but his performance at Lord's suggested he would have struggled either way to remain part of a three-man pace attack. There were occasions when England's four-pronged unit looked light on firepower, especially with Graeme Swann having little influence on the match. Strauss is expecting more from the Old Trafford pitch, both for the quicks and the spinners, but a surface that aids the bowlers won't do much to clear up the question of whether England need an extra option.
"The balance-of-the-side issue is something we look at on a case-by-case basis but this wicket should have a bit more in it for the bowlers," said Strauss. "Generally there's a bit more pace and bounce and the spinner usually comes into the game a bit more so we are probably leaning towards four bowlers.
"Two areas we wanted to improve were getting big hundreds, which to some extent we did with Jonathan Trott getting a double, and the second was finding ways of taking wickets when the ball isn't doing much. I don't think we did that as well as we could during the Test, certainly on day two and to a certain extent on day four when the sun was out and the ball wasn't swinging. We weren't able to apply as much pressure as we'd like and it's an area we want to touch up on."
The pitches will be flat in Australia and the Ashes hype was notched up a few levels in Sydney on Wednesday when a selection of Australia players, including Ricky Ponting, launched the title sponsorship for the series. Strauss again admitted that the contest was never far from his mind even at the start of the English season, but that it was important not to lose focus on the present.
"You have to look at a bit of both but primarily this game," he said. "As I said at the start of the summer it's about winning and winning consistently then things will become clear as the summer goes on as to the personnel we need. I'd like to say we've half an eye on it, but the more immediate concern is this game."
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