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July 15, 2012
Ravi Bopara is back in the England Test squad for the first match against South Africa at The Oval next week. There are five fast bowlers in the 13-man group, with Graham Onions, Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan competing to form the pace trio with James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Bopara's form in the ODI series against Australia - 182 runs and four useful wickets - confirmed he is primed for a return to the Test side, after a frustrating period during which his opportunities were curtailed by injuries. He was set to make a comeback in Sri Lanka after Eoin Morgan was dropped but picked up a side strain that prevented him from bowling, and so Samit Patel was preferred. Then, at the start of this season, Bopara injured his thigh and was ruled out of the series against West Indies.
That opened the door for Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow, who struggled in the three Tests against West Indies, making 38 runs, and has not had a huge amount of batting since. Bairstow returned to Championship action this week and made a first-ball duck against Hampshire.
The only other debate is who will be the third fast bowler behind Anderson and Broad. England's regular new-ball pair was rested for the last Test against West Indies but Anderson and Broad will return to spearhead the attack for the main event of the season.
In the first two Tests against West Indies, they were accompanied by Bresnan, who was Man of the Match at Trent Bridge after a destructive spell of reverse swing on the third evening sealed the series for England. He currently has a Test bowling average of 26.09 and a batting average of 40.22 and will be tough to dislodge. Finn, however, made a very strong case for himself with his performances in the Australia ODIs.
In four completed matches, Finn took eight wickets at 19.37, including 4 for 37 at Chester-le-Street. He played the final Test against West Indies, when Broad and Anderson were rested, but was out-bowled on that occasion by Onions, who was playing his first Test since January 2010.
Geoff Miller, the national selector, said: "Ravi Bopara has worked hard to regain his place in the Test squad following some injury concerns earlier in the season and is the only player included who is yet to play a Test match this summer.
"We have played some very good cricket over the last couple of months in all formats to win series against West Indies and Australia and after a month of limited overs cricket, preparations are now underway for what is sure to be a very competitive Test series against South Africa," Miller said. "We know we will need to play excellent cricket to win this three-match series and the squad will be determined to start with a strong performance this week during the first Investec Test and set the tone for the rest of the series."
On Saturday, the ICC's annual refresh of the rankings pushed South Africa to third but if they beat England they will replace them at the top of the table. England will retain their spot with a won or drawn series over the three Tests at The Oval, Headingley and Lord's.
Squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior (wk), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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