Bell misses out on tour spot
Despite an impressive Test debut at The Oval last week, Ian Bell has missed out on selection for England's tour of South Africa this winter, as Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe return after injury. There is a recall for the Durham allrounder Paul Collingwood, who has been troubled by injury this season, and Gareth Batty also returns. Chris Read won the spot of reserve wicketkeeper.
Bell, 22, scored 70 and took a fine gully catch on debut at The Oval, but was always likely to miss out once the selectors made the understandable decision to stick with Butcher, whose run of 42 consecutive Tests was brought to an end by the first of a series of freak injuries earlier this summer.
But Bell, and the Gloucestershire seamer Jonathan Lewis, have been named as the official standby players for the tour. They will also form part of the ECB's National Academy squad for the winter, for training at home at Loughborough and trips to Sharjah and Sri Lanka. That squad also includes Kevin Pietersen, the South African-born Nottinghamshire batsman, who becomes eligible for full England selection this winter.
David Graveney, the chairman of England's selectors, explained: "We were impressed by the maturity Ian Bell displayed on debut against West Indies last week, and he was considered for one of the specialist batting positions. But ultimately we felt that Mark Butcher deserved to retain his place following his outstanding batting in the Caribbean during the winter and likewise Robert Key for his excellent performances against the West Indies this summer."
Read beat off the challenge of, among others, Sussex's Matt Prior and James Foster of Essex, to earn another tour. Having been jettisoned by England earlier this year because his batting didn't measure up, Read has averaged over 59 in first-class cricket so far this year (Prior currently averages 50 and Foster 47).
Collingwood, who hasn't played much this year because of a persistent knee injury, gets a tour place as the back-up allrounder. Graveney said: "We have chosen Paul Collingwood because we feel that his experience of the international arena and his adaptability will be of real benefit to the touring party, and will better enable us to retain the right balance to the side in the event of injury to our one allrounder, Andrew Flintoff."
But Collingwood has lost the safety-net of a 12-month ECB contract. Twelve players were given contracts today for 2004-05, and Collingwood was not among them. The retired Nasser Hussain was obviously missing as well. Butcher, Flintoff, Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and James Anderson retain their 12-month contracts, while Thorpe, Steve Harmison, Mathew Hoggard and Simon Jones are upgraded from their old six-month ones. Andrew Strauss and Geraint Jones are the new names on the full contract list.
England arrive in Johannesburg on December 5, and will play five Tests (the first one at Port Elizabeth on Dec 17) before a seven-match one-day series starts at the end of January. The one-day squad for that - and the projected tour of Zimbabwe in November - will be announced after the Champions Trophy in England in September.
Graveney warned that the tour would be a tough one: "Winning 10 out of the last 11 Test matches is an outstanding achievement which the team deserve great credit for. We recognise, however, that South Africa at home will be difficult opponents and the forthcoming series should give us a clearer indication of how much progress we have made over the past 12 months and where we stand in world cricket."
England Test squad for South Africa
Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Mark Butcher, Michael Vaughan (capt), Graham Thorpe, Robert Key, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones (wk), Chris Read (wk), Ashley Giles, Gareth Batty, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Stephen Harmison, James Anderson.
England Academy squad
Fulltime students: Ian Bell (Warwicks), Rikki Clarke (Surrey), Paul Franks (Notts), Alex Gidman (Gloucs), David Harrison (Glamorgan), Jonathan Lewis (Gloucs), Sajid Mahmood (Lancs), Kevin Pietersen (Notts), Michael Powell (Glamorgan), Matt Prior (Sussex, wk), Owais Shah (Middx), Graeme Swann (Northants).
Part-time: Alastair Cook (Essex), Steven Davies (Worcs, wk), Adam Harrison (Glamorgan), James Hildreth (Somerset), Liam Plunkett (Durham), David Stiff (Kent), Luke Wright (Sussex).