Amidst all the build up to the start of the County Championship next week, there have also been the first reminders that the International summer starts in less than a month with New Zealand arriving at the beginning of May for their two Test series. Although it is the norm for the five Ashes Tests to be preceded by a two Test series, it is somewhat disappointing after the excitement of the New Zealand leg of the series for the return affair to be so short. Given that there were only six Tests in the summer last year, an eighth Test this year would have been quite welcome in place of the three ODIs that will be utterly lost in the Champions Trophy.
Scheduling disappointments aside, both the New Zealand touring squad and the England Performance Squad for the full summer were announced this week. There were few surprises in the fifteen named by New Zealand. The XI who played all three Tests in New Zealand were obvious inclusions and they are joined by Doug Bracewell, Martin Guptill, Mark Gillespie and Tom Latham. It is not a great shock given that Bracewell and Guptill both missed out due to injury and Latham and Gillespie were both on the fringes of the side before the start of the series. The interesting omission is that of Daniel Vettori who missed the series in New Zealand with an injury, but is back fit for the tour of England. There was a lot of discussion about whether he would regain his place, but his to even make the squad as a reserve spinner answers that question quite definitively. The squad might also be a bit short of cover in the middle order; Guptill is primarily an opener and Latham at least seems to be treated as an opener. Over the course of only two Tests, however, there is not a lot of need for depth in the squad, especially after the performance at home has clarified a lot of selection problems.
Even though England’s squad was the more general England Performance Squad, there was an important omission. James Taylor continues to make a strong case for being the unluckiest man in England. He has done absolutely nothing wrong, yet Eoin Morgan and his first class average in the thirties was preferred for the squad in India and England took a smaller than usual squad to New Zealand. Now Taylor, despite being one of the only bright spots in a disastrous Lions tour to Australia, appears to be completely forgot behind Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Neither of them really impressed in New Zealand and there is no reason why Taylor should not still be in the picture.
The aforementioned Morgan did get a place in the EPS, presumably for his continued selection in the pyjama forms. He should not be even mentioned in contention for a Test place, however. Not only does he have nothing at the first class level to recommend him, he has chosen to play in the IPL instead of trying to improve his first-class record. If nothing else, that should tell the England selectors quite clearly where his priorities lie. The same is true for Samit Patel, who was dropped for the last Test in India despite being selected as a specialist for the subcontinent.
It looks like it will be down to Root and Bairstow still and I would like to see them each get one Test. Neither have made a decisive case yet (all the more reason to give Taylor a go, but never mind) and unless one of them does so in the first few matches of the County Championship or with the Lions there seems no reason to give one the advantage over the other.
On the bowling side, Tim Bresnan might get a chance to take the third seamer role back from Steven Finn, though the latter’s six-fer in the last Test will have made that harder. And although Monty Panesar looked under some threat for his place as Graeme Swann’s understudy after a poor performance in New Zealand, the only other spinner named in the EPS is Danny Briggs. Whilst it is not out of the question that he could get a Test cap in May, he has been primarily around England’s pyjama sides. That the two Lions spinners, Simon Kerrigan and Scott Borthwick, have been omitted suggests that Panesar is safe.