Kent's captain, Robert Key, has had his prospects of an England recall enhanced after being named by the England & Wales Cricket Board in a 26-man Performance Squad for the 2008 international summer.
Key played the last of his 15 Tests against South Africa at Centurion in January 2005, but has been pressing his claims for a recall ever since being named as Kent's captain in 2006. He began this season with a hard-fought 79 against Nottinghamshire at Canterbury, and would make a sound replacement should England's middle-order continue to underperform in the coming Test series against New Zealand and South Africa.
The bulk of the Performance Squad is made up of familiar names, although three uncapped players have made the cut. Hampshire's opening batsman, Michael Carberry; Yorkshire's legspinning allrounder Adil Rashid and the Kent offspinner James Tredwell are also included.
England's national selector, Geoff Miller, said that there was scope for four more players to be added to the squad in the course of the summer. "The England Performance Squad is designed to allow Peter Moores to closely monitor the development of international players," he said, "and better prepare them for the demands of the international game.
"The selectors can name up to 30 players in the EPS, but we have decided to keep four places vacant at present in order to give ourselves greater flexibility and we will reserve the right to add further players to the squad if their performances in domestic cricket merit it.
Twelve of the 26 players in the squad are currently on 12-month ECB contracts, including Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, who were dropped from the Test side during last month's tour of New Zealand, but the selectors decided against awarding any six-month contracts - not even to Stuart Broad and Tim Ambrose, the two young players who impressed the most in the Test series.
"We were delighted with the progress made by several of our younger players during the winter. both with the full England side and the England Lions," said Miller. "The awarding of contracts is based on our assessment of a player's performance in international cricket over a period of time and we can, of course, opt to award contracts on a pro-rata basis during the middle of the domestic international season if appropriate."
England Performance Squad 2008 Tim Ambrose (Warwickshire), James Anderson (Lancashire) *, Ian Bell (Warwickshire) *, Ravi Bopara (Essex), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Michael Carberry (Hampshire), Paul Collingwood (Durham)*, Alastair Cook (Essex)*, Andrew Flintoff (Lancashire) *, Stephen Harmison (Durham)*, Matthew Hoggard (Yorkshire)*, Robert Key (Kent), Dimitri Mascarenhas (Hampshire), Philip Mustard (Durham), Monty Panesar (Northamptonshire)*, Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire)*, Matthew Prior (Sussex), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire),Owais Shah (Middlesex), Andrew Strauss (Middlesex)*, Ryan Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire)*, Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire), James Tredwell (Kent), Chris Tremlett (Hampshire), Michael Vaughan (Yorkshire)*, Luke Wright (Sussex)
* denotes centrally contracted player