Vote of confidence underlines England success
London: An unusual vote of confidence by the England selectors last Sunday illustrates the heady run of success currently enjoyed by the national team who could clinch their four-Test series against Pakistan this week.
The selectors took the rare step of announcing the final XI for the third Test at the Oval starting on Wednesday instead of a squad with opener Alastair Cook, who has scored just 100 runs in seven Test innings this season, the chief beneficiary.
England conclude their home season in London with the final Test scheduled for Lord`s next week after which they will turn their full attention to the Ashes defence in Australia later in the year.
Since coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss joined forces early last year, England have regained the Ashes and won the Twenty20 World Cup.
They have beaten Australia 3-2 in a one-day series this season and victory at the Oval would be their seventh Test win in a row, although that statistic does include four matches against a modest Bangladesh outfit.
Pakistan, in familiar disarray after squaring their two-Test series against Australia, could make little of the swing, seam and spin delivered by England`s four-man attack in the first two Tests.
In response the prolific Mohammad Yousuf has been recalled to the side, after ending his brief international retirement, while pitches at the two London Test grounds generally favour the batsmen.
Since Andrew Flintoff retired from Test cricket last year year, England have committed themselves to a four-man attack with six specialist batsmen and wicketkeeper Matt Prior batting at seven.
England will almost certainly need to take 20 wickets in at least two Tests in Australia to retain the Ashes and the London matches should provide a more searching examination of the various abilities of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann.
Anderson, the leader of the attack, moved the ball wickedly late under leaden skies in the first two Tests but not only Australians question his ability and attitude when the ball is not swinging.
Broad has yet to prove himself abroad while Finn, for all the immense promise he has shown in his debut international season, is still a novice.
Swann, the world`s top-ranked spinner, has surpassed expectations since his Test debut in December 2008, and he will welcome the opportunity for an extensive workout in the knowledge that English off-spinners usually struggle in Australia.
Pakistan, headed by the late movement and accuracy of Mohammad Asif possess a class attack, as they showed in their surprise win over Australia.
But their batting has been dire and Yousuf is set to replace Umar Amin while Yasir Hameed could also come into the side in place of either Shoaib Malik or opener Imran Farhat.
Either Tanvir Ahmed or Wahab Riaz will replace injured pace bowler Umar Gul, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the series with a hamstring injury.
To compound Pakistan`s problems, Gul was joined on the sidelines on Monday by wicketkeeper-batsman Zulqarnain Haider, who made 88 in the second innings on his Test debut at Edgbaston. Haider, who has a broken finger, will be replaced by Kamran Akmal who will return to the side for the second time this year after being dropped.