Vaughan and Harmison wait on training squad
Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison have been trying to fight their way back into England's Ashes plans, but to have a realistic chance of featuring against Australia will have to be included in the 16-man training squad named on Monday. Both had a major role in England's 2005 victory and will now find out where they stand in the current pecking order.
Harmison has the strongest case after a productive couple of weeks in county cricket following his return from shin problems. In the recent Championship match against Warwickshire, at Edgbaston, he took 5 for 44 in a flat surface and gave the batsmen a real working over to make it 16 wickets in two games. However, England's bowlers have been in good form this season and with Ryan Sidebottom back in the mix again Harmison faces a tough fight.
Vaughan's hopes appear to hang by an even thinner thread after a struggle for runs this summer. His 43 against Worcestershire summed up a frustrating time and the dream of a final crack at Australia is fading fast, especially after the success of Ravi Bopara at No. 3 against West Indies.
The large squad will meet up at Edgbaston next week ahead of England's match against Warwickshire on July 1. When the team for that game is decided, the remaining players are likely to join the Lions squad at New Road to face the Australians, which could be where Harmison finds himself.
Graham Onions, Harmison's Durham team-mate, continued his impressive season with 7 for 38 against Warwickshire and after his strong debut against West Indies will be hard to shift. There were promising signs from Sidebottom, too, during the ICC World Twenty20 and his left-arm variation will be a tempting option particularly as it will create extra rough for England's spinners.
Graeme Swann is now the leading spin option and is likely to be joined by two others with Adil Rashid edging closer to a Test debut following Monty Panesar's poor season where he is average more than 86 for his wickets. Andy Flower, the England coach, is a fan of Rashid and the legspinner showed great promise in the Twenty20 and didn't panic against batsmen looking to attack.
The balance of England's attack will be aided by a fit Andrew Flintoff who has completed two Championship matches for Lancashire where he has collected wickets and scored a half-century. He is expected to slot in at No. 7 for the Ashes behind Matt Prior.
Flintoff's record shows that runs are not guaranteed so the onus will be on England's top order to produce big scores. The five who played against West Indies are nailed on to start the Ashes and with Prior at six there aren't any spots up for grabs at the moment.
Should anyone lose form or suffer injury Vaughan's form should put him well down the order of replacements although his experience can't be discounted. However, Bell would probably be next in line for a recall after scoring 477 runs at 79.50 in five Championship matches. He hasn't featured for England since being dropped following the defeat against West Indies, at Sabina Park, in early February and was told earlier this season to "show more hunger" by national selector Geoff Miller.
England's 13-man squad for the first Test at Cardiff is due to be named on July 4 following the conclusion of the Warwickshire match. Only then will we have a true idea of the Ashes masterplan.
Probable training squad Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Adil Rashid, Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson, Graham Onions, Monty Panesar, Steve Harmison
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo