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July 29, 2008
Steve Harmison made it as far as the England squad, but won't be making his Test comeback just yet after he was left out of the final eleven to face South Africa at Edgbaston. Paul Collingwood, his Durham team-mate, is recalled after being dropped at Headingley while Ryan Sidebottom is fit again. As expected Stuart Broad has been left out after showing signs of fatigue in recent weeks.
The pitch at Edgbaston is not expected to be quick and bouncy but could assist the swing bowlers, a factor that will have swayed Michael Vaughan and Peter Moores's decision over the team. Even though the hot weather of recent days is forecast to break up during the Test there is still the possibility of the surface taking turn, therefore Monty Panesar becomes much more of an attacking option than he was in Leeds.
"It wasn't straightforward because we obviously had the option of going with five [bowlers]," said Vaughan. "But because of this ground, and where we were last week, we felt that the depth in batting would help. That's what we've gone with, it's obviously going to be tested over the next few days, but at the end of it I'm confident we can produce the performance that we all want this week."
So after one Test with a five-man attack, England are back to four frontline bowlers with Collingwood in support. Collingwood has scraped together 92 runs in nine first-class innings this season, and hasn't played in that format since the Lord's Test, but at least he has found some one-day form with Durham. His recall means Tim Ambrose will fall two places from No. 6 to No. 8 and Andrew Flintoff remains at No. 7.
"Colly's obviously struggled of late, but he averages over 40 in Test-match cricket with a double-hundred," said Vaughan. "His fielding, his energy, and his bowling on this type of wicket could be useful if it swings. He's just a good man to have around the team, because he's very mature and a good thinker of the game. He knows he needs to start scoring runs, as a few of us do, but it's good to have him back in among the ranks."
Vaughan is another man who could do with a big innings in this match. He has managed only 23 runs in three innings to date in this series, although the absence of his nemesis, Dale Steyn, will doubtless boost his confidence. "I don't feel under any extra pressure than I have done in the last two to three years," said Vaughan. "I've always had these blips in form and I'm confident I can come through them."
The break between Tests has given Vaughan the chance to spend some time at the National Academy at Loughborough and work on his technique, and he believes he'll come back stronger. "I always analyse my batting and I believe in this series I've had three decent balls, but there are a couple of them that I feel I could have done better with," he said. "I guess sometimes you do practice a bit harder when you don't get as many runs, but I'm hitting them well and I believe I can get a big score this week if I get off to a good start."
After the selectorial shennanigans that marred England's build-up to the Headingley Test, their eagerness to unveil the side 24 hours in advance of the match was a deliberate statement of intent. "It always creates clarity when you can announce the team to everyone, and that includes the eleven that play and the two that don't," said Vaughan. "It's nice to know the day before that you are playing so you can prepare your mind, rest up, and get yourself focused for the start tomorrow morning."
Flintoff and James Anderson had a lot of bowling at Headingley, so Sidebottom's return will be a huge boost for Vaughan. It'll be vital for England that he recovers the zip which was missing at Lord's. "Ryan's bowled all week, and he's confident he's back to being that snappy bowler he was in the winter and early on in the summer," said Vaughan. "The week will testify that, but he looks to have a bit more confidence back."
The team selection is tough on Broad, who has been England's most consistent batsman of the series so far, but as Vaughan conceded, it is his lack of wickets that has prompted the change. "He's been left out for his bowling," he said. "We've all seen what a good cricketer he is, and will be for England. His batting is very consistent - I've no doubt he'll climb the order eventually - but he's bowled a lot of overs and is starting to look a little jaded. It's a good time to get out of the firing line, go and play for his county, and I've no doubt he'll be back in the team sooner rather than later."
Harmison, meanwhile, remains in the background, and could yet feature in the series if England fail to make the most of Edgbaston's conditions. "He's very close, and that's why we brought him back into the squad," said Vaughan. "It's a sign for him that he's got a chance to get back in. He's obviously not in the eleven this week, but who's to say he won't be in the eleven at The Oval the week after."
England 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt), 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Tim Ambrose (wk), 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.
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