• New Zealand in England 2013

Familiar England set for first test

Andrew McGlashan
May 10, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Graeme Swann's expected return will help offset the absence of Kevin Pietersen © Getty Images
Enlarge

Despite an indifferent conclusion to England's overseas winter in New Zealand, the selectors are unlikely to see the need for significant changes for the start of the home summer that will be dominated by the Ashes but firstly includes the return series against Australia's close neighbours.

One major figure will be missing, but another is set to return. Kevin Pietersen's right knee, which forced him to miss the final Test in Auckland, continues to be a problem and he will not be available for England duty until at least the start of the Ashes and even that must be shrouded in doubt with the injury proving more problematic than had been envisaged in March.

In New Zealand, where a drawn series was salvaged by Matt Prior's hundred in Auckland, England were also without Graeme Swann and his absence left a hole equal to that of Pietersen's. Swann's elbow surgery in the USA has, so far, proved a success and his return for Nottinghamshire has been tentatively encouraging although there must be questions over whether his workload - one Championship game and two YB40 matches - has been enough to really test the recovery.

Still, his return in place of Monty Panesar - always a bowler more comfortable operating in tandem rather than solo - appears a matter of course. The summer ahead will place a huge burden on Swann, and there do not appear many obvious gaps for a rest, so in every sense it is make or break for his right elbow.

Pietersen's absence from the middle order will be filled again by Jonny Bairstow, who was drafted into the final Test at Eden Park having played one first-class innings since last September. His twin failures were predictable, and understandable, but he has impressed at the start of this season for Yorkshire and should have done enough to ward off his nearest challengers, which include England Lions team-mates James Taylor (despite him not being named in the performance squad) and Ravi Bopara who is back in favour with the selectors in one-day cricket.

Bairstow will also have fond memories of Lord's, the scene of his Test debut against West Indies last year and also his most convincing Test performance, when he made 95 and 54 against South Africa after, again, being an understudy for Pietersen. His technique has, at times, been picked apart at Test level but that is a rite of passage for young player.

Perhaps the most interesting names in the squad will be the extra pace bowlers included alongside the current trio of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn. The latter, according to reports from the County Championship, has not quite hit top form for Middlesex and following on from the tour of New Zealand he has now usurped Broad as the man under most pressure for his place.

In New Zealand, questions started to be asked about the true depth of England's back-up quicks. Graham Onions' form fell apart in Queenstown while Chris Woakes did not convince that he was ready to be a third seamer for a Test match. Onions, as he was always likely to do, has returned to wicket-taking form for Durham (he is currently the leading wicket-taker in Division One) but whether that means he remains a viable Test option is another issue. The difference in level between Championship and Test cricket is distinct, as it should be.

The odds favour Onions being retained in the squad and if England name 13 in the party for Lord's it could open the way for a return for Tim Bresnan who, like Swann, underwent elbow surgery earlier this year. He has made an encouraging start to the season with Yorkshire, taking 11 wickets at 27.63, and while there may be a clamour for the selectors to go for a younger option - such as Woakes or Toby Roland-Jones - Bresnan has retained the support of the England management. While it is clearly true there were times in the last 12 months when Bresnan should not have played, it is also wide of the mark to suggest his earlier Test form was a fluke.

Possible squad Alastair Cook, Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions/Tim Bresnan

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Close