Martyn Corrin | 12:02pm gmt 05 Jul 2009
England have named their squad for the first Test, and to the relief of many, Steve Harmison misses out. A squad of thirteen has been selected, with the eleven who faced Warwickshire being joined by Ian Bell and Graham Onions. That means it consists of the following players: Strauss (captain), Cook, Bopara, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior (wk), Flintoff, Broad, Anderson, Onions, Swann, Panesar.
Essentially there is one place in the England team that nobody is quite sure of, seemingly including the selectors. The three players in the above list that you wouldn't bet your house on them being selected are Bell, Onions and Panesar.
Ian Bell seems highly unlikely to play despite his inclusion in the squad. You would have to imagine that he is simply there as the reserve batsman. It is unthinkable for England to play four bowlers with Flintoff in the side. Rightly or wrongly that has been the line that has been taken for a long time now, when Flintoff plays so do four other bowlers. Bell will only play if any of the batsman, or maybe Flintoff, fall victim to an injury during the next three days.
This of course means it is a shootout between Monty Panesar and Graham Onions for the last bowling spot. There has been plenty of talk of Cardiff turning square and England therefore wanting to go in with two spinners. Yet Australia are likely to play no spinners at all, and recent reports seem to suggest that the pitch has been somewhat overhyped; if one spinner will suffice, that will be Graeme Swann. Panesar has been in poor form all season long, and a few tailend wickets for England against Warwickshire should not have done too much to alter the selectors' minds.
Onions is the man in possession of the place that Panesar would like, and he acquitted himself reasonably enough on debut against the West Indies in May. He has taken 40 first-class wickets at 13.02 apiece this season (excluding his Test wickets), these came in the first division and he would consider himself very unlucky to be left out. This compares with Panesar's six wickets in the second division for an astronomical 86.66. Averages don't have to be the be-all end-all, but when a player isn't taking wickets then they shouldn't be selected.
In the end the selectors have to decide whether the pitch really merits a second spinner, but also whether reputation alone is enough to pick a player who has been having a dismal season. History would suggest that Panesar is the more likely to get the nod, but this England setup has been a lot more proactive than recent ones, and as such it is not a stretch to predict that Onions will indeed play. Here is how I tip England to line up on Wednesday:
It is not quite the Pietersen V Thorpe debate that we had four years ago, nonetheless, when it gets down to these decisions then you know the Ashes are nearly here. Three days to go...