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Monty’s back but England Ashes hopes rest on Swann
England’s commitment to a four-man attack for their Ashes defence in Australia this year has directly influenced the decision to recall left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.
Panesar and Surrey fast bowler Chris Tremlett, another recall, won the two extra bowling places at stake in the 16-man squad named at the Oval on Thursday.
England won the Ashes with a five-man attack in 2005 but, in the absence of a test class all-rounder after Andrew Flintoff’s injury-induced retirement, have preferred this year to play an extra batsman.
* England will be heavily reliant on off-spinner Graeme Swann, the world’s top-ranked spinner, in Australia. Swann, who gives the ball a prodigious tweak for a finger-spinner, has emerged as England’s match-winner after he was called up at the end of 2008.
However, if the unthinkable happens and he is either injured or suffers a calamitous slump in form, Panesar is an obvious replacement.
Panesar lost form and confidence and has not played for England since the first Ashes test last year. He has been accused of lacking subtlety but at his best he is an excellent attacking spinner, who has taken five wickets in a test innings on eight occasions. One of these hauls was at Perth when England were whitewashed in the 2006-7 series. He is currently in good form, taking 52 wickets at 25.69 for his new county Sussex this year.
* Tremlett and Tim Bresnan will be the backups for the first choice England pace trio of James Anderson, Steven Finn and Chris Broad. Like Panesar, Tremlett has successfully switched counties, taking 48 wickets at 20.18 each for Surrey this year.
A perceived casual attitude rather than his ability has been the main obstacle to international selection but the selectors feel his pace and height could pay dividends on Australia’s harder pitches. Yorkshire’s Ajmal Shahzad, who reverse swung the ball at high pace in his sole test against Bangladesh this year is the unlucky man.
* England’s commitment to continuity ensured the other selections were predictable. Ian Bell, who missed the Pakistan series with a broken bone in his foot, is likely to move back into the test batting lineup in place of Eoin Morgan. Steve Davies’ form as Andrew Strauss’s opening partner in 50-overs internationals won him a place as backup wicketkeeper to Matt Prior.
* England have not won an Ashes series in Australia since 1986-87. This year, though, they have the advantage of holding the Ashes which means they need only a drawn series. They will also have the backup of a performance squad, including Shahzad, who will be based in Australia and provide ready made replacements in case of injury or loss of form.
PHOTO: England’s Graeme Swann (R) and Monty Panesar attend a training session before the fourth cricket test match against South Africa at the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg, January 11, 2010. REUTERS/Philip Brown