Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann have been included in the new 25-man England Development Squad but Matt Prior, the Sussex wicketkeeper, is a surprise omission, with Chris Read getting the second wicketkeeping position.
Tremlett, Hampshire's tall fast-medium bowler, and Swann, Nottinghamshire's offspinner, are the only two players to be included who did not feature in any part of England's winter tour of Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Tremlett has started the season in impressive form, taking nine wickets at 23 apiece, including a career-best 6 for 44. Swann will add extra competition to the spin bowling department and will be up against Gareth Batty as support for Ashley Giles when two spinners are required. Darren Gough also finds a place, after his productive one-day series in South Africa, a clear indication that he is part of the planning for the 2007 World Cup.
Tremlett told ecb.co.uk that being involved with the top players and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, will benefit his game: "Being in the squad will enable me to have a closer working relationship with some of the established England guys as well as the coach, who can cast more of an eye over players such as myself. It will be nice to talk to him once in a while and get his views on how he thinks things are progressing."
But Swann knows that there is still a lot of hard work to do before he can add to his single ODI cap, which he gained on the 1999-2000 tour of South Africa. "Being picked is something I have been striving for and hopefully, fingers crossed, it is the first rung in the ladder," he said. "However, there is no point being in the 25-man squad to then just rest on my laurels. This is where the hard work starts and I've now got to pull out all the stops and do what I can to make it into the England side."
Prior's omission is the most surprising element to the squad. He returned from the Academy tour of UAE and Sri Lanka where his aggressive batting in tough conditions - especially during the Test series against Sri Lanka A - generated very positive reviews.
But Read has been preferred, an indication that the England selectors have yet to come to a firm conclusion as to whether the best wicketkeeper should be chosen, or the player who is likely to score more runs. Geraint Jones' glove-work during the South African tour did come in for some criticism, especially as he failed to score the volume of runs that was expected.
All 12 of the centrally contracted players have been included and Fletcher will be able to withdraw players from domestic cricket at his discretion. But it is not anticipated that this will lead to a significant reduction in the amount of county cricket played by non-contracted players.
David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said: "The squad is a new concept which will enable the England coach to monitor more closely the development of international players and better prepare them for the demands of the international game. As we go forward, we anticipate that the squad will usually consist of the centrally contracted players, certain specialist one-day players and a nucleus of players who can provide cover in specialist positions within the international side.
But Graveney also stressed that the squad was not a 'closed shop' and players from outside the 25 would be considered for selection. So those who missed out, such as Prior, Alex Gidman and Sajid Mahmood will now have to put in some strong performances in county cricket.
"What the introduction of a development squad will allow me to do is follow the progress of individuals from an earlier stage of their career," said Fletcher, "and, in conjunction with the counties, assign specialist coaches where necessary to help develop their game."
England Development Squad Michael Vaughan*, Kabir Ali, James Anderson*, Gareth Batty, Ian Bell, Mark Butcher*, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff*, Ashley Giles*, Darren Gough, Stephen Harmison*, Matthew Hoggard*, Geraint Jones*, Simon Jones*, Robert Key, Jon Lewis, Kevin Pietersen, Chris Read, Vikram Solanki, Andrew Strauss*, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, Graham Thorpe*, Marcus Trescothick*, Alex Wharf
* = players who have a 12-month contract