Harmison and Strauss await England recalls
In spite of their improbable victory in the recent ODI series in Sri Lanka - their first on the subcontinent in 20 years - England are expected to revert to their seasoned five-day specialists when the squad for the three-Test series in Sri Lanka is unveiled at The Oval tomorrow.
England emerged triumphant by three games to two in Dambulla and Colombo earlier this month, in a contest that was played out on slow low wickets and at an unusually Test-like tempo. But for several members of that squad, as well as the veteran Mark Ramprakash, disappointment is on the cards.
Foremost among England's considerations will be the wicketkeeping position. Phil Mustard took the gloves and opened the batting during the ODIs, but having failed to establish himself in five opportunities, England are expected to revert to Matt Prior, whose Test career began with a remarkable debut century against West Indies at Lord's in May, but who sustained a broken thumb during the recent World Twenty20 in South Africa.
Prior's position came under scrutiny following a poor series with both the bat and the gloves against India last summer, but having worked their way through six wicketkeepers in the past 12 months, the selectors are expected to give Prior another opportunity to establish himself. He is a key disciple of the new coach, Peter Moores, having learnt his craft under Moores at Sussex, and was Geraint Jones' understudy on England's last visit to the subcontinent in 2005-06.
One man who seems certain to have earned a recall on the strength of the one-dayers is the offspinning allrounder, Graeme Swann, whose first matches for England in seven-and-a-half years were an unmitigated triumph. He spun the ball prodigiously, produced vital runs down the order, and assuming he recovers from the hamstring injury he sustained ahead of the final ODI, could be a useful sidekick to Monty Panesar, who will start the series as England's No. 1 spin option.
In the absence of Andrew Flintoff, Swann's allround credentials will doubtless boost his chances of a call-up, while Ravi Bopara is another man well-placed to step up a level, following his nerveless displays in coloured clothing this year - although he could well be put on stand-by in the development squad that is due to be stationed in India during the tour. One man who has been headed in the opposite direction is the former stalwart Andrew Strauss, who this time last year was a candidate for the captaincy.
Strauss's form slump has already led to his omission from the one-day set-up, but having secured an ECB central contract, he seems set to retain his place in a 15-man squad. The man who will miss out is likely to be Ramprakash, whose prospects of a recall at the age of 38 were being talked up last week following his stunning summer of run-scoring for Surrey. Owais Shah is the other man in the frame for the final batting slot, having made 88 and 38 in his only previous overseas Test appearance, at Mumbai in 2005-06.
England's obligation towards their centrally contracted players should also ensure recalls for Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, both of whom missed large portions of the summer schedule with injuries. Harmison, with a hernia operation behind him, is hoping to prove his fitness in two first-class matches for Highveld Lions in South Africa.
James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad - all of whom excelled during the recent ODI series victory - are expected to fill the remaining fast-bowling slots, with the only other significant change being that of the captain, Michael Vaughan. Four years ago, Sri Lanka was the scene of Vaughan's first major tour as England captain, but he was unable to emulate the feat of his predecessor, Nasser Hussain, whose 2-1 victory in the 2000-01 series was one of England's finest of all time.
Possible squad Michael Vaughan (capt), Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Andrew Strauss, Owais Shah, Matt Prior (wk), Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, Graeme Swann, Matthew Hoggard, James Anderson, Stuart Broad.