1. Strauss- Already older than both Vaughan and Atherton were when they played their last match, it is conceivable that Strauss is approaching the twilight of his career. The decision to play Tests only is a bold move, given his fantastic form recently in the 50-over version of the game, but one that it is hard to disagree with. Unlike many previous captains (Athers’ bad back, MPV’s knackered knee, Freddie’s buggered body), Strauss has rarely – if ever – missed matches through injury. So long as that remains the case, we could see Strauss as the first name on the team sheet (both as captain and as arguably the most important batsman) for a few more years still.
2. Swann- One of the most surprising elements of the Ashes thrashing was that England had so little difficulty in bowling out the Australians with a relatively insignificant contribution from the world’s leading spinner, who is perhaps best remembered for his tour diary rather than his fifteen wickets (admittedly a total not to be sniffed at, but at an average of almost 40). That is not meant to be a criticism, rather an observation, as all the pundits, whether in the press box or in the armchair, assumed a series victory would depend on Swann being the star performer. Nonetheless, he is the best spinner in the world (second in the rankings only to Steyn, for what they’re worth) and an automatic pick, maybe the only automatic pick, in all forms of the game.
3. Cook- Is it really less than a year ago that his technique, his form and his place in the team was being questioned? One of the best winter tours from any England player ever has removed any doubt about him; allied with his position as vice-captain, the opening partnership with Strauss, already the highest-scoring pair for England, will surely continue for the foreseeable future. It better had, for the queue of openers ready to fill his boots is rather short. However there are question marks over how the ODI captaincy will affect his form. So long as the half-hearted, slow-footed prodded edge to slip doesn’t return, he should be fine.
4. Anderson- The leader of the Test attack for a while now, his figures in Australia and last summer were incredible. If he keeps bowling as well as that, rather than his rather substandard ODI performances, then a whitewash against Sri Lanka, even with their batting order, is possible.
5. Trott- God, England supporters should all love the man who is ranked No. 4 in the world by now. Despite a dodgy winter in South Africa at the start of his career, his average of 61.53 after 18 matches puts him second only to the Don. By the end of the summer he will have played more matches than Pollock and Headley, who are third and fourth on the list of averages. It is not difficult to envisage his average remaining that high come September. How old does one have to be to remember the last time No. 3 in the English order was not a problem position?
6. Prior- He averaged 50 down under and after 40 matches, his batting average of 42.96 is higher than Gooch’s and Collingwood’s were at the same stage in their career (and higher than Vaughan’s career average, incidentally): Prior’s place in the Test team is pretty much certain. His wicket-keeping is competent enough to make The Flying Beard a candidate for the global Test team, should the Martians land with their cricket coffins. Just don’t ask him to open…
7. Bell- Continues to progress. His current form and ability with the bat would have made him an England great in the lesser teams of the 1990s, but in the era of a settled batting line-up, he is still perceived to be only on the verge of transformation from having the potential to actually delivering it. The plethora of nicknames may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but Lord Ian Ronald Bell MBE MBE MBE continues to rise.
8. Broad- Seems to have been around for years. Actually, he has been around for years. A great foil to Anderson and Swann, his fairly low position on the ladder is indicative of the current form and mood of this England side under Team Andrew (and also related to his recent run of injuries). If he gets fully fit, and stays fully fit, he’s in the side, but the performances of the other seamers in the Ashes suggest he’s got very healthy competition.
9. Pietersen- No longer the star of the team, it’s easy to forget he averaged 60 in the Ashes and that Cook wasn’t the only man to score a double hundred. Like other English players in the past with incredible self-belief, it is difficult to balance his talent with his figures, and the character with the results. He is still a huge force to be reckoned with, but KP needs a run of consistent scores over the summer and next winter to reinforce the idea that he is world-class, rather than just bloody good.
10. Bresnan- The most improved player? The most underrated player? Or a club cricketer who’s got lucky? The B&Q jokes have sadly decreased in use, as Bresnan demonstrated his value to the side in Australia. A very useful squad player, who takes the 3rd seamer position in the ladder due to being perhaps better suited to an English summer than the taller bowlers. If it weren’t for injury, would probably be playing in the first Test.
11. Tremlett- His absence from the Lions squad suggested that the 3rd seamer position would be between him, a fit Bresnan and Finn. Now his place in the side has been confirmed, it’s good to remind people that he was a surprise selection for the Ashes. Of course he performed better than anyone could have wished for in Australia and is a very handy bowler who will surely cause the Sri Lankans and Indians problems.
12 and 13. Morgan and Bopara- Bopara can bowl a bit, Morgan can’t. Bopara is scoring well in county cricket (division two) with two hundreds, Morgan was averaging 15 from 9 innings in the IPL with one fifty. Both have talent, both have yet to prove that they are the right man for the Test side. Currently Bopara should be ahead, but the final choice depended on their performance in the Lions match. Morgan’s colossal innings sealed it, to the surprise of many. Nonetheless, both will need to perform consistently in all their matches this summer if they are to cement a place in the side for the next few years.
14. Finn- Outstanding figures for the start of his career, but probably lacks a bit of control and composure that is needed if he is to play regularly. It is likely that this will come in time though, so don’t write him off. Also very handsome.
15. Shahzad- His swing bowling should place him above Finn in English (and Welsh) conditions, but Finn’s place in the squad for the first Test shows the selectors wanted to choose two of three taller bowlers to support Anderson.
16. Davies- Should be reserve wicket-keeper, though knowing England, there’s probably a dozen players challenging for this.
17. Panesar- It is difficult to assess who is back-up for Swann. Tredwell is unlikely to trouble India or Sri Lanka. The Lions squad included Patel and Briggs, neither of whom look like international bowlers at the moment. Rashid seems to have dropped off theEngland radar, so for now, Monty probably remains the first reserve.
18. Taylor- It is telling that only one proper opener was selected in the Lions squad (Jimmy Adams), meaning James Taylor filled that role. Allied to his strong start to the season and undoubted potential, it is judged that he is currently the next in line for a place should one of the top seven (i.e. including Morgan and Bopara) are injured.
19. Onions- With Woakes injured and Onions fit, it is the more experienced man who takes the place as 7th (seventh!) choice seamer.
20. Bairstow- His selection in the Lions squad shows he’s in the selectors’ thoughts.
21. Dernbach- Is not Liam Plunkett.
22. Hildreth- Lions captain with a chance of playing should Bopara and Morgan both fail.
23. Adams- Appears to have overtaken the Yorkshiremen Lyth and Gale. Possibly the back-up opener.
24. Woakes- Injured, but a stunning start to the season warrants inclusion still.
25. Mahmood- Hey, at least he’s not Amjad Khan.