Test squad for UAE tour

England have announced the squad for the three test series against Pakistan in the UAE in January. In a sign of not only unusual but almost unprecedented stability there is only one chance from the Ashes squad with Ravi Bopara replacing the retired Paul Collingwood. The selection probably closest to a surprise is that Steve Davies retains his place as reserve keeper for the test matches. There was a strong suggestion that he’d fallen behind Bairstow in the pecking order, but it seems that was only for limited overs matches. Hopefully it won’t be relevant, of course. Matt Prior has a strong case for being the best wicket keeper in the world right now and if England have to field any reserve it will be a huge blow. Monty Panesar retains his place as the second spinner, which is not a huge surprise. It was not so long ago that he was the first choice and the other possible selections don’t look like challenging him at the moment. Samit Patel still has a lot of work to do to get into the test side, even if he is moving in the right direction, and Simon Kerrigan is still unproven, even at county level. There wasn’t any place in the squad for Graham Onions, putting a swift end to my suggestion that he play as a fourth seamer.

The squad announcement doesn’t leave much room for speculation about the starting XI in Dubai. Barring any late injuries, nine of the order are set in stone and a tenth, Eoin Morgan, is almost a certainty given the selectors’ preference for six batsmen. (With which I disagree, given the batting abilities of Prior and Broad, but that cause is long lost.) That leaves Bresnan, Tremlett, Finn and Panesar competing for the last bowling spot. I’ve said before that I’d give it to Bresnan and I still would, despite the lure of playing a second spinner. We saw in the Pakistan v Sri Lanka series that pace can be effective in the UAE, and Bresnan is a better bowler overall than Monty.

Pakistan have been playing very good cricket recently, and if they keep it up (a pretty big ‘if’ I know) they will be a huge challenge for England. It’s a strong squad though, there are no injuries (as much as I hate going six months without any cricket there are fitness advantages) so it should be a stronger side than the one that beat India so comprehensively at Edgbaston and the Oval last summer. It is shaping up to be a fantastic series and I’m starting to wish it too had a fourth test.

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