Uncapped pair Simon Kerrigan and Chris Woakes were the surprise call-ups to England’s squad for the final Ashes Test – but a double debut is a long shot at the Kia Oval.
Maiden Tests are a relative rarity in the very successful and regimented Andy Flower era, and not since Michael Carberry and Steven Finn began their careers against Bangladesh in Chittagong in March 2010 has there been more than one debutant in the same match.
Circumstances are slightly skewed this week, however, and England’s selectors have left nothing to chance by naming a belt-and-braces squad of 14.
The obvious reading is that second spinner Kerrigan and bowling all-rounder Woakes are in the mix purely, on this valedictory occasion with the Ashes already won for a third successive time, for the experience of rubbing shoulders with an established guard they may be joining during the winter’s rematch in Australia.
Chris Tremlett, one of two seam bowling additions alongside Finn to the team which made it 3-0 at Chester-le-Street, is an obvious choice to return on his home ground in place of the injured Tim Bresnan.
Kerrigan and Woakes’ inclusion is nonetheless intriguing, and leaves room for plenty of second-guessing as to England’s always closely-guarded motives.
Is there a case for a second spinner, for example, at a venue which has occasionally accommodated that tactic for its traditional August Test?
England have not had the all-rounder luxury since Andrew Flintoff was forced into early retirement by injury, and have relied on wicketkeeper Matt Prior’s outstanding batting ability to balance the side.
In Woakes, the medium-term hope must be that he might be good enough to bat at number seven. But, for the moment, with Prior’s form with the bat having been modest all summer, England’s batting would look vulnerable with Woakes in for Jonny Bairstow. Secondly, it would be harsh – and out of character by England’s management – to sacrifice Bairstow at number six ahead of the winter tour.
But Woakes’ ability to make up the shortfall of pace overs behind James Anderson and Stuart Broad – who have bowled more than 300 overs between them against Australia so far this summer – is clearly attractive. Woakes’ selection would also allow Cook and Flower to keep the fragile Tremlett under wraps for a little longer.
National selector Geoff Miller said: “The inclusion of five pace bowlers, as well as an additional spinner in Simon Kerrigan, who has impressed with Lancashire and England Lions in recent years, gives Andy Flower and Alastair Cook plenty of options at the Oval.”
Kerrigan, like Finn for Anderson et al, could also simply be cover in case England decide a rest is in order for Graeme Swann after his 23 Ashes wickets to date this summer.
Left-arm orthodox Kerrigan can nonetheless surely conclude already that he is the new man in possession as Swann’s understudy, or indeed partner in the right conditions, after Monty Panesar’s meltdown in Brighton earlier this month.