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May 11, 2011
With the first Test against Sri Lanka just over two weeks away, the announcement of the England Lions squad for the tourists' final warm-up match starting on May 19 has presented the possibility of a batting shootout to fill the middle-order vacancy created by Paul Collingwood's Test retirement.
Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan are the main contenders and will play alongside each other at Derby, but the Lions top order will be crammed with county talent. James Hildreth has been named captain while there is also a place for James Taylor and Samit Patel, the Nottinghamshire allrounder, has been handed another chance after being left out of the World Cup squad due to his lack of fitness.
Bopara is nudging ahead in the race to fill the No. 6 spot after overcoming a tricky start to the season to find some useful form and has also collected handy wickets with his medium pace. Morgan had been the stand-by batsman during the Ashes but his stock appears to have slipped. He has spent the last six weeks at the IPL and the Lions match will be his one first-class outing before the Test series.
Hildreth and Taylor were both consistent performers during the Lions tour of West Indies but Patel's selection is an indication he must have taken on board the seriousness of Andy Flower's remarks about meeting fitness targets. The England team director didn't hide his frustration at Patel's lack of progress, but the message may finally have hit home and his early-season form has been promising.
In the bowling department, Graham Onions' returns to an England squad after a 15-month absence through injury. Onions has enjoyed a bright start to the county season with Durham following his rehabilitation with 12 wickets in his first two games of the season.
Seamers Ajmal Shahzad and Steven Finn will have the chance to present their cases for higher honours this summer, while Jade Bernbach will look to take advantage of Chris Woakes' enforced absence. Hampshire left-arm spinner Danny Briggs will also be able to showcase his youthful talents as the only specialist slow bowler in the side.
"It has been very pleasing to see many of the players selected for the England Lions squad last winter make good starts to the domestic season and they have been rewarded with an opportunity to play a strong Sri Lankan side and push for further international honours," said Geoff Miller, the national selector.
"England Lions games are crucial stages in a player's development and give selectors a good indication of whether players are ready to make the transition into the full England side. Furthermore it's an excellent chance for fans to enjoy watching a talented young England squad take on a very good Sri Lankan Test side."
England Lions James Hildreth (capt), Jimmy Adams, Jonny Bairstow, Danny Briggs, Ravi Bopara, Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Eoin Morgan, Graham Onions, Samit Patel, Ajmal Shahzad, James Taylor
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala