England squad poses familiar questions

Just as one Ashes series victory did not make England the best side in the world, neither did one poor tour of Pakistan signal a crisis. However, as the final ticks and crosses are put to the squad to tour India, to be announced at 11.30 on Friday morning, there are some familiar questions for the selectors to answer.
The news that Michael Vaughan and Ashley Giles are making promising progress with their rehabilitation, following knee and hip surgery respectively, will ease some of the concerns, although David Graveney remains wary. "The players themselves are making some positive statements but you've always got to be cautious," he told BBC Sport. "Let's remember we were pretty positive about Simon Jones playing in the last [Ashes] Test and that didn't work out."

Jones is on course to be fit for this tour after missing the whole of Pakistan. His comeback means that England are set to return to their tried and tested formula of four quicks and one spinner, when the Test series begins at Nagpur on March 1. But with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh pencilled in for India they may be forced to consider two spinners if they encounter a raging turner.

Shaun Udal was treated with brutal disdain during the final Test against Pakistan, at Lahore, but had done a fair job in the first two matches. With the second spinner needing to be ready for action at short notice, Udal's experience and level head is a better bet than one of England's youngsters. Monty Panesar, the left-armer from Northamptonshire, who has received support from all corners in the last week, is the most attacking option if the selectors want to consider a long-term bet.

However, there are just two warm-up matches before the first Test. So for the development of Panesar it would be better for him to be part of the A tour in West Indies than kicking his heels in India. Alex Loudon, who now has the experience of a full England trip behind him, can get back to actually playing on the A tour as he continues to work on his doosra.

The same policy can be taken with England's back-up quick bowlers. If there is full confidence in Jones's ability to handle three Tests in three weeks, then one reserve fast bowler is sufficient. Liam Plunkett showed ample promise in Pakistan to edge out James Anderson, who can continue to re-groove his outswinger in West Indies with an eye to him taking the new ball there in the World Cup.

Despite the batting imploding twice in Pakistan - in the second innings at Multan and Lahore - there will be no changes to the top-order personnel. When the final cut is made for the Tests, Paul Collingwood will again be the fall-guy as Vaughan returns to No. 3. One headache for England will be the likely loss of Andrew Flintoff, for the final Test at Mumbai, when he returns home for the birth of his second child. There is certainly no like-for-like replacement so Robert Key, Owais Shah and Alastair Cook can join the A tour with the incentive of a possible call-up to act as a reinforcement.

With the one-day series consisting of seven matches, and the need to cover for Flintoff, that squad could be heavier as England continue to try and work out what their best side is ahead of the World Cup.

England Test squad (probable) Michael Vaughan (capt), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones, Matt Prior, Ashley Giles, Shaun Udal, Liam Plunkett, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Steve Harmison.

One-day squad (probable) Michael Vaughan (capt), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Vikram Solanki, Geraint Jones, Matt Prior, Ashley Giles, Ian Blackwell, Liam Plunkett, Simon Jones, Steve Harmison, James Anderson.