• The Investec Ashes 2013

Pietersen injury main England issue

Andrew McGlashan
July 27, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
James Taylor is the frontrunner to replace Kevin Pietersen if injury rules him out of the Old Trafford Test © PA Photos
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England's selectors are likely to delay a decision on Kevin Pietersen's availability for the third Investec Test at Old Trafford by naming him in an expanded squad on Sunday morning, which will include batting cover in case his calf strain does not recover.

Pietersen has been undergoing extensive treatment since picking up the injury on the second day of the Lord's Test, and is likely to be given another couple of days to show whether he will be able to get through five days in Manchester. Had these been back-to-back Tests, Pietersen would have been ruled out, but the 10-day break has worked in his favour.

England, though, will not take any risks, and are unlikely to be overly concerned should Pietersen's injury keep him out. He remains a crucial asset to the team, but apart from an important 64 in the second innings at Trent Bridge, has had a stuttering start to the Ashes series, and England will feel they can cover for his absence.

James Taylor, currently playing for Sussex against the Australians, remains the leading candidate to provide batting cover (and come into the side if required), and was unbeaten on 64 at the end of the second day.

It would be a quirk of fate if it were to be Taylor who replaced Pietersen, given the stories that emerged following his Test debut against South Africa, at Headingley last year, where he had an extended partnership with Pietersen, although may not have overly impressed his senior team-mate.

After being abruptly dropped after his two appearances against South Africa, and not even named in the England performance squad at the start of the season, Taylor was told to churn out the runs at domestic level and work on some technical flaws which concerned the selectors, specifically his ability to handle deliveries outside off stump.

His performances for Nottinghamshire, where he has made 824 runs at 58.85 in the Championship, mean he has done all he can at county level to make the selectors consider him again.

The other batsmen who would perhaps come under consideration all have significant issues against a call-up. Eoin Morgan has yet to play first-class cricket this season (although he did train with England during the Lord's Test), Ravi Bopara has picked up a side strain which has prevented him from bowling and playing in Essex's recent Championship match against Leicestershire, while Nick Compton, dropped shortly before the Ashes began, is not a like-for-like middle-order replacement.

Given England's healthy position in the series, and the success of the bowling attack at Lord's, there is no overwhelming need to tinker with the bowlers, although the conditions at Old Trafford will be taken into consideration. In the past, before the square was turned to face north-south instead of east-west, it was renowned for pace, bounce and, later in the match, spin.

The pace element remains a slightly unknown factor on the new pitches - although last year's Twenty20 against South Africa saw the ball flying through from the quicks - but there has been plenty of evidence that spin remains a key weapon. In Lancashire's previous Championship game against Glamorgan, Simon Kerrigan, the left-arm spinner, took 12 wickets in the match.

Kerrigan's impressive Championship season where he has taken 44 wickets at 19.72 (making him the leading spinner in the country) continue to mark him out as an England player in waiting, but if a second spinner is required on this occasion it remains likely that the selectors would opt for Monty Panesar especially after his solid showing against the Australians at Hove.

At home, however, and even taking into account Australia's issues against spin, it will take an awful lot for England to select an attack with two spinners, especially while they continue to have an major impact with the reverse swing found by James Anderson and Tim Bresnan. Joe Root, with three important wickets in the series, has also shown he is a more-than-handy option with the ball.

Probable squad Alastair Cook (capt), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor, Matt Prior, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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