Morgan wins selection race
Eoin Morgan has been unexpectedly named in England's squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka at Cardiff. The strong tip had been for Ravi Bopara to earn a recall to fill the No. 6 spot vacated by Paul Collingwood but Morgan, who hit 193 for the Lions this week, has stepped up after being the spare batsman in Australia. Steven Finn has also pipped Ajmal Shahzad to the reserve pace-bowler's slot, but is unlikely to play with Stuart Broad fit again after missing three Ashes Tests and part of the World Cup.
For the last few weeks the momentum has grown behind Bopara's potential recall, so Morgan's selection is a surprise. It had been thought that Bopara's decision to opt for Championship cricket ahead of the IPL - while Morgan played for Kolkata Knight Riders - earned him plenty of credit and coupled with two first-class hundreds for Essex would see him add to his 10 Test caps.
However, in terms of consistency the selectors have followed the next-cab-off-the-rank policy they favour and Morgan was one injury away from playing at any stage during the Ashes. The fact that the 10 balls he faced against Victoria on that tour made up his only first-class innings for nine months made his 193 against the Sri Lankans on Thursday and Friday even more impressive.
He had only flown back from the IPL last Saturday and had three days preparation with Middlesex and England Lions before walking to the middle with the score 162 for 4 on a green pitch at Derby. He responded with a superb innings and looked set for the second double ton of his first-class career until falling lbw. Bopara, meanwhile, had struggled to 17 while the ball was nipping around in helpful conditions.
"Ravi has been getting a lot of runs for Essex, but the controlled innings that Eoin played just gave him the nod," Geoff Miller, the national selector, said. "That innings really just showed us what he is capable of doing. It shows his strength of character."
Morgan has six Test caps under his belt having played throughout last summer, firstly as a replacement for the resting Collingwood against Bangladesh then for the injured Ian Bell against Pakistan. At Trent Bridge, against Pakistan, he struck his maiden Test hundred having come to the crease with England wobbling on 118 for 4.
His century came up with a straight six and he looked right at home. However, as the ball moved away during the rest of the series he didn't make another significant contribution and questions were asked as to whether his technique - drilled heavily in the one-day game - could stand up Test cricket. Now he's got an extended chance to silence any doubters because the place is his to lose.
With the big decision made there will be some small alterations to England's batting order. Bell, who enjoyed a superb Ashes series and crowned it with a hundred at Sydney, is expected to move up to No. 5 to take Collingwood's spot while Morgan will slot in at No. 6 where he has played all his Test matches. The preference of Morgan over Bopara means that Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen can expect to do some bowling.
The other significant decision in the squad was who replaced the injured Tim Bresnan. Given Bresnan's role of providing a pitch-up, swing option Shahzad had been favoured but the selectors have returned to Steven Finn who played the first three Ashes Tests.
"He was in the Ashes and again it's consistent," Miller said. "He's bowled well this year, he bowled well here against the Sri Lankans, and he's part of our squad. We are in a very nice position where we have a lot of quality seamers and it's hard to make that choice.
Finn hasn't taken huge hauls of wickets, but after the third day of the Lions game said he was feeling as good as ever about his game. "The figures don't suggest that I bowled particularly well, but this is probably the best I've felt this season," Finn said. "This season I've felt a lot better than before, and a marked improvement on where I was in Australia."
Finn is unlikely to make the starting eleven, however, with Broad set to resume his position having been injured in the second Ashes Test at Adelaide. Broad is a favourite of the England set-up - although his Test bowling average of 35 needs to start coming down - and it would be harsh to drop Chris Tremlett after his performances in Australia. And as the selectors have shown by naming Morgan, once someone in this England set-up they don't cast them aside quickly.
England squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, James Anderson, Steven Finn.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo