The upcoming test series between England and South Africa should be a fine spectacle, with two evenly-matched sides going at it in conditions that offer plenty to both.
Both possess a pair of world-class seamers at the peak of their powers, a couple of extraordinary batsmen with a penchant for scoring big, a burly all-rounder that is capable of great feats....and a whole bunch of selection headaches into the bargain.
South African edge the markets but the make-up of England’s squad has hardly helped; it lacks any sense of clarity as to which direction this test team is heading in.
For Ian the Bell Tolls
The emotions that greeted Ian Bell’s absence from the squad ranged from a knowing nod to an outpouring of grief, and it is sad that a class act that has been at the centre of his country’s finest performances in recent years has been relegated to the ranks of cricketing Marmite.
Perhaps it has been a while in coming, however. Bell has averaged just 20 with the bat in 2015, and a turgid series against Pakistan has – temporarily at least – brought the curtain down on the 33-year-old’s England career.
The concern is finding somebody to contribute the weight of runs he scored the last time that the Three Lions toured South Africa in 2009/10. Bell accumulated 313 runs in just four matches at an average of 44.71: and that will take some replacing.
Out of the Shadows
Bell’s absence offers opportunities for others of course, and it appears that two players who have been welcomed back into the fold after a period away from the international fold will get first dibs at filling the number three slot in England’s batting order.
Nick Compton, at the grand old age of 32, will be given a second crack at test cricket following a reasonable stint in the side from 2012-13. He scored two tons in bowler-friendly New Zealand and a gritty half-century in the Indian dust bowl of Eden Gardens, if little else.
An average of 31.93 in tests is hardly anything to write home about, but those runs did come as an opener. Compton has experienced something of a re-birth as a number three for county side Middlesex, and he is likely to have the first bite of the cherry in the same role on this tour.
Having just turned 26, Gary Ballance represents better long term value than Compton, and his crabby demeanour at the crease shouldn’t detract from a Yorkshireman who is more than capable of scoring runs by the bucketload.
A test average of 47.76 from 27 innings is fantastic, and if his technique hadn’t been so cruelly exposed by the Aussies in the Ashes summer then Ballance would surely have been on the plane to the Middle East. He will need to dig in, as his Yorkshire contemporaries like to say, but after a glittering 18 months in an England shirt prior to the summer it is clear that Ballance is up to the task.
In a Spin
It is no secret to anyone that Moeen Ali will start the test series against South Africa as first choice spinner – he offers so much with the bat and is able to exert more control than his ‘rivals’ for the role.
But how disappointing it was to see Adil Rashid bumped from the squad by Samit Patel. The latter, at 31-years-old, represents neither the present nor the future of English spin bowling, and in the third test against Pakistan he neither looked dangerous or able to hold an end up (his match economy rate was around 3.80) in friendly Sharjah conditions, and that is of huge concern.
Rashid is far from the finished article – and indeed he may never be a test-standard spinner – but surely he represents the smarter option; even if it is as a drinks carrier at the moment.
The loss of both Mark Wood and Steven Finn to injury is a cruel blow, as surely either/or would have enjoyed themselves in such agreeable surroundings for seam bowlers.
The inclusion of Mark Footitt is long overdue, county cricket purists will tell you. As a leftie he poses a different kind of threat to the right-handed Proteas pair of AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla, and presumably his ability to swing the ball late at a decent lick has earned him the nod.
Chris Woakes’ call up has been justified by his decent form in the ODIs in Dubai, but he remains a one-dimensional bowler that seems to lack the requisite ‘X Factor’ to be a success at test level. Liam Plunkett must be wondering why he has carried the drinks around the Middle East with such diligence.
Possible Team for the First Test?
The various permutations are numerous then heading into the Boxing Day test at Durban, although the following is perhaps the most likely starting eleven:
Alastair Cook (capt); Alex Hales; Nick Compton; Joe Root; James Taylor; Ben Stokes; Jos Buttler; Moeen Ali; Stuart Broad; James Anderson; Mark Footitt.
Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh, who was recently dropped for the test series against South Africa, said that he is desperate to make a comeback in the test cricket.
The 35-year-old veteran has insisted that he is confident to make a comeback to the Indian Test squad in near future despite being ignored for the ongoing test series against the Proteas.
“Last ODIs I have done well. Whatever is there I am confident that I will get to play in Test matches again,” Harbhajan said.
“Aggression is looking forward to the challenge. Aggression does not mean you start hitting or beating anyone. To me aggression is to let the ball and bat do the talking.”
“After playing a lot I have learnt a lot many things, cool and aggressive approach is the need of the hour.”
Harbhajan made his Test debut against Australia in 1998 and has claimed 417 wickets in 103 matches with an average of 32.46.
Sri Lanka have announced their 15-man squad for the two Twenty20 Internationals series against West Indies, starting this Monday at Pallekele.
Monday, Nov 9, 2015 ( 05:00 PM - IST )
1st T20I match at Pallekele
Thursday, Nov 12, 2015 ( 05:00 PM - IST )
2nd T20I match at Colombo
T20 Squad: Lasith Malinga, TM Dilshan, Kusal Janith Perera, Shehan Jayasuriya, Angelo Mathews, Milinda Siriwardene, Chamara Kapugedara, Dinesh Chandimal, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Dushmantha Chameera, Nuwan Kulasekera, Sachithra Senanayake, Jeffrey Vandersay, Binura Fernando and Thisara Perera.
Sri Lanka Squad for T20 Series against Windies https://t.co/oVjh7VkVMC | Sri Lanka Cricket— Sri Lanka Cricket (@OfficialSLC) November 5, 2015
Pakistan test skipper Misbah-ul-Haq could announce his retirement from test cricket after the conclusion of the final test against England in Sharjah, according to Express Tribune.
The veteran batsman, who is country’s most successful Test captain is hopeful to finish the series on a winning note in the final test on Sunday.
“I was trying to make a decision before this Test but now I have just left it, I will really think about what I should do because there is a long gap before our next series. One should think about leaving the game with respect rather than leaving it when he is forced to leave,” Misbah said.
However, The PCB has asked the 41-year-old to continue play for the nation until Pakistan's tours of England and Australia in 2016.
Pakistan to play for four Tests in England next year, and then travel to Australia for three Tests in the 2016-17 season.
Misbah already announced his retirement from the shorter forms of cricket. He averages 48.77 in his 60 Tests, having scored 4243 runs since making his debut against New Zealand in 2001.
It has been confirmed - the next year’s Asia Cup will be scheduled in Bangladesh for the third consecutive time.
The T20 format tournament will feature India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and an associate nation, starting on February 24 and the final match to be held on March 6.
"Pakistan raised the point that Bangladesh should host next year's Asia Cup and everyone agreed," BCB president Nazmul Hassan told reporters in Dhaka on Wednesday.
"Four Test nations will get direct entry while one Associate nation will come through the qualifying tournament. We also discussed whether there can be more cricket at the Under-19 level between the Asian countries.”
Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Oman, Hong Kong and the UAE will compete to qualify for the Asia Cup as Associate nation.
The previous two season of the Asia Cup were held in Dhaka in 2012 and 2014. This will be the fifth time the tournament is being held in Bangladesh, having previously hosted in 1988 and 2000 too.