Flower to coach strong Lions team
Andy Flower will return to frontline coaching less than six months after stepping down as England's team director when he takes charge of a strong Lions team, featuring Steven Finn, Jonny Bairstow and Ravi Bopara, in their triangular series against New Zealand A and Sri Lanka A next month.
Flower, whose hugely successful five-year tenure with England came to jarring end with an Ashes whitewash over the winter, has since moved into a leadership role with the ECB - his official job title is "Technical Director of Elite Coaching". He will oversee the Lions in four 50-over matches, rather than the usual candidate, ECB performance director, Dave Parsons.
Finn's return to England involvement is one of several noteworthy selections. Finn was sent home from Australia after being deemed unselectable, becoming like Flower a casualty of England's disastrous tour. Bairstow, who played the fourth and fifth Ashes Tests but has not been in a squad since, will get the chance to press his claims as Matt Prior's successor should Jos Buttler fail to step up convincingly from his limited-overs role.
The team will be captained by James Taylor, the Nottinghamshire batsman and Lions regular who played two Tests under Flower in 2012, and also includes Bopara, whose Test ambitions remain on hold despite being a regular in ODI and T20 cricket for England.
England's search for a spinner has seen them alight on Middlesex's left-armer Ravi Patel, who has played just three List A matches in his career, though Lancashire's Stephen Parry is also included after being involved in the disastrous World T20 campaign in Bangladesh. Jason Roy's excellent form for Surrey has been rewarded, David Willey returns after injury setbacks over the winter and there is an opportunity for Somerset's Craig Overton , whose twin brother Jamie was selected for the full ODI squad last year. Tom Smith, the Lancashire allrounder, is also recognised for his strong domestic season so far.
Alex Hales, the T20 opener previously ranked No. 1 in the world, is expected to make the transition to 50-over cricket when England play five ODIs against India later in the summer and the Lions series will further inform the selectors as part of preparations for the 2015 World Cup.
"With the Royal London one-day international series against India rapidly approaching and next winter's tour to Sri Lanka and ICC Cricket World Cup also firmly in our sights, this is the perfect opportunity for these players to impress the selectors in the 50-over format of the game," the national selector, James Whitaker, said. "We are delighted to welcome Ravi Patel from Middlesex into a Lions squad for the first time and look forward to what promises to be a closely contested series against two highly competitive touring sides."
The Lions will begin their involvement in the triangular series against Sri Lanka A in Taunton on August 6, before facing New Zealand A in Bristol two days later. The other two fixtures will be played at New Road the following week.
England Lions squad: James Taylor (Nottinghamshire, capt), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Ravi Bopara (Essex), Steven Finn (Middlesex), Stephen Parry (Lancashire), Harry Gurney (Nottinghamshire), Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire), Craig Overton (Somerset), Jason Roy (Surrey), Ravi Patel (Middlesex), Tom Smith (Lancashire), James Vince (Hampshire), David Willey (Northamptonshire)
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick