England set to name Ashes squad
England will reveal their Ashes squad on Thursday afternoon as everyone tries to move on as quickly as possible from the scandal-ridden visit of Pakistan. Often Ashes hype can become tiresome, but given the controversies of the last few weeks there is nothing people would like to talk about more.
However, for all the interest surrounding the 16 names that will fly to Perth on October 29 there are going to be very few surprises from the selectors. At least 14 of them are inked in with just the final paceman and second spinner the positions carrying a question mark. It's a far cry from picking Ashes squads of the 1990s when selectors were often pulling last-minute names out of the hat based on a few late-season performances.
The current regime of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, along with national selector Geoff Miller, have been clear in their planning throughout the summer, hence their decision to stick with four frontline bowlers which will now be the approach for Brisbane. The only time they diverted from Plan A was the resting of Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad for the Bangladesh series at the start of the summer and Ian Bell's injury which ruled him out of the Pakistan Test series.
Eoin Morgan was the batsman to benefit and, despite fading against Pakistan following his debut hundred at Trent Bridge, will be one of seven batsmen in the squad although is likely to be pushed aside by Bell for the first Test. Paul Collingwood is facing a vital series because, at 34, it could be his final Ashes while all eyes will be on Kevin Pietersen who will warm up with a two-week stint for the Dolphins in South Africa.
With the batting sorted, and Steve Davies' successful return to the one-day side making him the logical understudy to Matt Prior, it's just the final two bowling slots that are awaited. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann are the first-choice attack, while Ajmal Shahzad has done enough with his displays of reverse swing to be in the squad.
Graham Onions and Ryan Sidebottom would usually have come under consideration, but Onions is facing a career-threatening back injury and Sidebottom, somewhat surprisingly, announced his international retirement three days ago. Tim Bresnan has been part of the Team England bubble for the last 12 months across all formats and Flower puts great emphasis on the strong bond the squad have built up in recent times. Therefore, Bresnan is probably squeezing into the final 16 - he also provides allrounder cover should Broad suffer an injury.
However, the selectors could pull out the closest they'll come to a wildcard and recall Chris Tremlett, who enjoyed a resurgent season with Surrey taking 48 Championship scalps at 20.18. Six weeks ago he was in prime form and although he tailed off towards the end of the summer he has earned good reviews. He'll have to convince the selectors he has the ticker for an Ashes tour; four years ago his game fell apart during the one-day leg of the tour, but his height will be a very temping quality to have in reserve.
Then it's down to the second spinner. So strongly are England's Ashes plans built around Swann - both his ability to take wickets and contain which allows them to play just four bowlers - that an injury to him would be a horrendous blow. However, tours to Australia are known for throwing such spanners in the works.
There are three men in contention to be Swann's No. 2. James Tredwell, who did the job in Bangladesh and made his Test debut in Dhaka, Adil Rashid after an impressive season with Yorkshire which brought 732 runs at 45.75 alongside 57 wickets at 31.29 and Monty Panesar who took 52 Championship wickets at 25.53 for Sussex.
All three will be in Australia because the Performance Squad will be based in Brisbane and Perth concurrently with the main party, but the one who makes the main 16 will give an insight into England's thinking. If Swann is injured before a Test then it would be a huge ask for Rashid to make a Test debut, while Tredwell is an honest bowler but not a matchwinner. Despite his difficult two years, Panesar remains the one with the best chance of troubling Australia.
However, if England divert from their standard gameplan and play two spinners - most likely at Sydney, although it's not the raging turner it once was - then Rashid is the best option because he can bat at seven or eight alongside Broad to balance the side.
The Performance Squad could also include the likes of Adam Lyth, Michael Carberry, Ravi Bopara and James Hildreth as batting cover, Craig Kieswetter for the wicketkeeper and Tremlett if he doesn't make the lead group. But once the 16 are named, Flower and Strauss will hope they are the players to keep hold of the Ashes.
Probable Ashes squad Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Steve Davies, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Ajmal Shahzad, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Monty Panesar
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo