Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bell set to be unchallenged on recall

Comeback kid: Ian Bell has big boots to fill as he replaces the injured Kevin Pietersen.

England will give themselves bowling options ahead of the third Test against Australia at Edgbaston, but the batting line-up is likely to be set in stone when the selectors announce their squad on Sunday. Ian Bell will be confirmed as Kevin Pietersen's replacement with no further batting cover expected to be included while Steve Harmison, who the Daily Mirror reports will announce his international retirement after the Ashes, and Monty Panesar are set to retain their places.

Bell has been the spare batsman in the previous Tests and Andy Flower confirmed after the Lord's victory that he was next in line for a berth. Now that Pietersen has been ruled out for the series he will return to the side for the first time since being dropped following England's defeat against West Indies, at Sabina Park, in February.

He paid the price for an unconvincing run at No. 3 and a particularly limp shot in the second innings collapse in Jamaica. At the start of the summer he was told to show "more hunger" for a recall and has subsequently made 647 runs in the Championship at 64.70, although his haul was dented by a double failure in the recent match against Hampshire where he made 7 and 0.

The selectors may have been tempted to include another batting option in the party, but Bell is set to be unchallenged. "There are no injury problems as such, so we probably won't need to do that," national selector Geoff Miller said. "We had question marks to cover in the last squad but I don't foresee needing to do that here."

However, Bell's position is partly eased due to the lack of outstanding candidates elsewhere. If further injuries were to deplete the batting order, Robert Key, Joe Denly, Stephen Moore and Owais Shah would be the likely names for a call-up. Key has recently returned to form with a career-best 270, Denly and Moore impressed for England Lions against the Australians and Shah made a hundred for Middlesex last week.

There is still the question of where Bell will bat, but the least disruption would come with a straight swap for Pietersen at No.4. The other options are to return at first drop and push the struggling Ravi Bopara down the order or promote Paul Collingwood and put Bell at No. 5.

Although England's attack performed impressively at Lord's there is still a chance changes will be made. Andrew Flintoff's knee will be assessed when the team meets up in Birmingham although the allrounder has said he is confident of being available.

Steve Rouse, the Edgbaston groundsman, described the pitch has being like "jelly" earlier in the week, and said it would be a challenge to bring it up to standard for the Test after recent poor weather, so the inclusion of Harmison and Panesar will allow England to cover all bases.

However, a slow, low surface would decrease the chances of a recall for Harmison, who according to the newspaper reports, wants a final opportunity against Australia before ending his England career for a life in county cricket with Durham.

Likely squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior (wk), Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Graham Onions, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar