Panesar named for Pakistan Tests
Monty Panesar has been given hope of relaunching his Test career after being named in England's squad to take on Pakistan in UAE next month. The 16-man party is very much as expected with Ravi Bopara retaining the spare batting slot and Steven Davies, the Surrey wicketkeeper, given the role of Matt Prior's understudy as he was in Australia.
In a sign of the consistency that has been a hallmark of England's Test cricket over the last 18 months there is only one change from the original 16-man squad that travelled to Australia last year with Bopara replacing Paul Collingwood. The trio of players who have been recovering from injury - Stuart Broad (shoulder), Eoin Morgan (shoulder) and Chris Tremlett (back) - are all included although there remains a small injury cloud over Tim Bresnan who has recently undergone elbow surgery.
"This series sees Steven Davies once again deputise as wicketkeeper to Matt Prior while Monty Panesar, who has been playing cricket in Sydney recently, has been selected as the second spin option along with Graeme Swann," Geoff Miller, the national selector, said. "Monty's selection comes off the back of a strong domestic season with Sussex and with the potentially spin-friendly conditions of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in mind.
"Ravi Bopara has another opportunity to show his growth as a Test player and we believe he will continue to add depth to our batting stocks for what promises to be a highly competitive series."
Panesar remains the second-best spinner available for England and was the logical option to work alongside Graeme Swann. His last Test was against Australia, at Cardiff, in 2009 when he produced the famous last-wicket rearguard with James Anderson to save the match. He moved to Sussex to rejuvenate his career and last season he was the highest wicket-taker in Division One of the County Championship in 2011 with 69 victims at 27.24.
Yet, whether Panesar makes the first eleven will depend on the willingness of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower to move away from the current balance of six batsmen, the keeper and four bowlers - albeit in conditions that haven't demanded a second spinner, or specialist fifth bowler - unless they opt for the risky strategy of two quicks and two spinners.
The prolific form of England's top five, Prior's consistency in Test cricket, plus the developing allround skills of Bresnan and Broad, suggest England could cope with the shift in strategy but don't be surprised to see the balance remain the same. However, there is little doubt that at some point next year - whether in UAE, Sri Lanka or India - England will need two spinners in the same attack.
Bopara has clung onto his place in England's Test plans after replacing the injured Jonathan Trott against India and has fought off the claims of James Taylor, Samit Patel and Jonny Bairstow. Davies, meanwhile, is back in an England squad for the first time since the one-day series in Australia during which he was omitted from the World Cup party.
"We believe we've selected a very strong squad with a number of key players looking to return from injury including the likes of Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan and Chris Tremlett," Miller said. "All three have missed a significant period of cricket recently but continue to make excellent progress and will be looking forward to having a substantial impact during this series. To have three world-class players of their calibre returning to the squad is an enormous boost for the Test team.
"We've been very pleased with the preparations undertaken by a number of players during what continues to be a lengthy break from international cricket. Several players are attending training camps with the England performance programmes in South Africa and India. With a long lead-in period once the squad arrives in Dubai there will be a substantial amount of preparation time to acclimatise and adapt to the conditions."
England have two three-day warm-up matches before the first Test on January 16 although the opposition is still to be confirmed. Tremlett and Steven Finn, the two other pace bowlers in the squad, will view that as an opportunity to push for recalls but may have to bide their time.
Squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Ravi Bopara, Monty Panesar, Steven Davies
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo