England were keeping a close eye on proceedings as Australia’s latest tour match against Sussex got under way – and not only to check on their Ashes rivals.
With the squad for next week’s third Test against Australia at Old Trafford to be named tomorrow, England were not just monitoring their opponents’ attempts to rediscover form, but considering selection options.
Chief among their concerns is the fitness of batsman Kevin Pietersen, who suffered a calf injury in the second Test victory at Lord’s. Pietersen is battling to recover for Thursday’s match but England gave a clue as to the identity of a possible replacement this week by requesting that Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor play for Sussex at Hove.
Taylor played two Tests for England against South Africa last summer but was overlooked for the winter tours to India and New Zealand. He boasts good form this summer, having scored 824 runs in 15 County Championship innings, with an unbeaten double century against his temporary side, Sussex, in June. Yet Taylor was not getting too carried away just yet.
“I’m hopeful that KP will be fit to play and, as it stands, I’m preparing to play in the three-day game for Sussex and nothing more,” the 23-year-old said earlier this week. “I’m not back in the Test side yet but I’m pleased to be a step closer to it.”
Other options for England could include Ravi Bopara, who shone in the recent Champions Trophy, but he has been troubled by a side strain for the past fortnight. Yorkshire’s Gary Balance also has his admirers, having scored 690 runs at an average of 57.5 in the Championship this season. Another reason for focusing on events at Hove concerns the bowling options.
England, like Australia, are pondering adding a second spinner to their squad and Monty Panesar was in action against the tourists. He has long been regarded as England’s second choice specialist slow bowler behind Graeme Swann, although he has not played a home Test since Australia’s last visit in 2009.
Adding Panesar could mean leaving a seamer out of their squad, with Steven Finn and Graham Onions the most vulnerable.