The England selectors named their 13-man squad for the much-hyped first Test starting against South Africa at The Oval next week. There weren’t any surprises with Ravi Bopara making a comeback into the Test squad following his wonderful ODI performances against Australia. As expected, Graham Onions and Steven Finn have also been included in the team, making the squad a well-balanced one.
The game will be particularly significant for Bopara, who will be returning to the longer version of the sport after missing the recent Test series’ England featured in. The middle-order bat was supposed to make his Test comeback in Sri Lanka, but a side strain forced him out. He was set to make another return against West Indies, but that time a side strain ruled him out. Though he has been unlucky in the past, he was in excellent form in the one-day series against Australia, which should give him a lot of confidence as he looks to re-establish himself in the middle-order. With Eoin Morgan running out of favour, and Jonny Bairstow also failing to come up with the goods against West Indies, Bopara was also going to get his chance. He now must grab it with both hands.
What England must be pondering upon is whether they must risk changing the winning eleven and try out Steven Finn instead of Tim Bresnan. This will be a very difficult choice since, while Finn has definitely bowled himself into contention with some highly impressive performances against the Aussies, Bresnan has done nothing wrong to be kept out. In fact, against West Indies, he also came up with a man of the match winning performance with the ball. And, with the willow as well, he has been very consistent, playing the all-rounder’s role to perfection.
The rest of the squad pretty much picks itself. Andrew Strauss will be back as leader, and will be buoyed following the good series he had against West Indies. The rest of the batting order is also in form -- Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, all will be confident of giving the Proteas a tough time. While Pietersen might be on the verge of making a comeback into all forms of cricket, he will be keen to make his mark against South Africa, a team he has a very good record against.
The bowling too will be in the able hands of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann. England have taken the first step in the right direction as far as the series is concerned. Time now for the bigger challenges.
--By A Cricket Analyst