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Rankin likely for Ashes, but questions remain

George Dobell
September 23, 2013
Boyd Rankin looks set to make England's Ashes squad after impressing in the recent ODIs © Getty Images
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Debates over the identity of the second spinner, reserve wicketkeeper and reserve batsmen will occupy the minds of the England selectors ahead of the announcement of the Ashes squad on Monday.

While it is possible to predict, fitness permitting, nine of the 11 that will represent England in the first Test in Brisbane, the choice of the remaining members of the squad is as open as it has been for several years. Several players face agonising disappointment or great elation.

There is little prospect of England picking two spinners in any of the Tests in Australia. While there was a time when such a scenario was a possibility in Sydney, those days have largely gone. When Australia beat Sri Lanka there in January, their spinner, Nathan Lyon, claimed only two wickets.

So the second spinner in the Ashes squad is there in case Graeme Swann suffers injury. Whoever is selected must be capable of performing the role of lone spinner for England in an Ashes Test.

The experience of Simon Kerrigan at The Oval illustrates what a hard task that is and how small the pool of candidates remains. While James Tredwell is the type of character - calm, low-maintenance and reliable - that this England management favour, his record in red-ball cricket this season is modest. He has taken only 13 wickets at a cost of 55.76 in the Championship. The form of other experienced players, the likes of Gareth Batty, is similarly modest.

Kerrigan's debut is likely to deter England from considering a similarly untried spinner in Australia. While the likes of Scott Borthwick and Moeen Ali may well be included in performance squad that will shadow the full team for part of the tour, it would be asking a bit much to expect them to fill-in for Swann just yet. Borthwick, the Durham legspinner, is an attractive option, but he does not, at this stage, offer the control England require from their Test spinner.

With Kerrigan, for now, out of the picture, Monty Panesar may be the best available reserve to Swann. So long as his off-field issues - and the England management will need assurances about his mental fitness to tour before committing to him - can be controlled, Panesar has the experience and qualities as a bowler to warrant selection. Besides, it may be that a prolonged return to the England camp revives his spirits. Taking him would be a risk, but England are not flush with options.

Indeed, the difficult of the second-spinner selection highlights a major issue: the excellence of Swann continues to mask deficiencies within the reserves of England's spin bowling. His eventual retirement will leave a gaping hole.

England have far more options when it comes to selecting a pack of fast bowlers. While Stuart Broad and James Anderson are certainties, Tim Bresnan is also highly likely to be included, possibly as a 17th man, with a view to him regaining full fitness in the opening weeks of the tour.

Boyd Rankin, too, looks certain to travel. Rankin's pace and hostility in the ODI series against Australia was impressive and, as he relaxes in the England environment, will only grow. He just could prove to be a key player in the Ashes.

The final two fast-bowling spots could be taken by Steven Finn and Graham Onions. While Onions would be, in essence, providing injury cover for Anderson, Finn remains a player of great potential who could come into the side if required. Realistically, though, the trip would prove a chance to work with the England fast bowling coach, David Saker, for a prolonged period.

That would see Chris Tremlett and Chris Woakes missing out. Woakes enjoyed a respectable Test debut at The Oval and might yet prove himself a decent No. 6 but his style of bowling is not particularly well suited to Australian pitches. Tremlett, sadly, has lost the pre-injury nip that made him such a dangerous player.

There could be a couple of batting allrounders in the squad. Ben Stokes, by virtue of his extra pace with the ball, his excellent fielding and his ability with the bat, would be a fine utility player and could balance the side by batting at No. 6. At 22, he is a player in development and there will be times when he frustrates but his all-round talents are obvious and he may prove worth a prolonged period of investment. Ravi Bopara, now rehabilitated, has a strong case for inclusion and could add a few economical overs if required.

The last time England embarked on an Ashes tour, in 2010-11, they did not take a reserve opener. Nick Compton remains the outstanding candidate for the role, but it may be that his reaction to being omitted earlier in the summer has damaged the relationship between him and the England management. Other options include Varun Chopra, Sam Robson and Luke Wells but all are untried at this level, while Michael Carberry has endured a modest season against the red ball. With Joe Root still adjusting to the demands of opening in Test cricket, however, it would be quite a risk not to take some back-up.

The position of reserve wicketkeeper may prove equally contentious. Several players have made a case for inclusion - Steven Davies, Craig Kieswetter and Jos Buttler among them - but England have invested time in the development of Jonny Bairstow and may well feel that, with his ability to bat and field in several conditions taken into account, he is a decent utility squad member.

Possible England squad: Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior, Jonny Bairstow, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Graham Onions, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Boyd Rankin, Monty Panesar.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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