The England Lions twelve man squad to take on the Sri Lankans has been named. Theoretically, if the first choice test eleven were to all mysteriously disappear and / or die, the Lions would be the ones to step into the breach. On a slightly less morbid level, games for the Lions are excellent opportunities for fringe players, those still cutting their teeth at international level, or those yet to make their full debuts a chance to impress selectors and push for regular games in the full squad.
The twelve men who have been selected for the game at Derby next week are as such:
James Hildreth (Somerset, captain)
Jimmy Adams (Hampshire)
Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire, wicket keeper)
Danny Briggs (Hampshire)
Ravi Bopara (Essex)
Jade Dernbach (Surrey)
Steven Finn (Middlesex)
Eoin Morgan (Middlesex)
Graham Onions (Durham)
Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire)
Ajmal Shahzad (Yorkshire)
James Taylor (Leicestershire)
There's a fair bit we can work out from who's been picked.
The selectors haven't chosen their replacement for Collingwood
... or if they have, they haven't made it at all obvious. In the podcast I did the other day I spoke about how there are four men all vying for the vacant spot in the test batting order. The fact that all of them (Morgan, Bopara, Taylor and Hildreth) are all in this team suggests that selectors are encouraging a "shoot-out" (sorry for using a massive cliche) for the spot. While the selectors may have preferences as to who gets in, if their man makes a duck whereas someone else makes a triple ton, it will be very hard to not pick them.
Samit Patel has lost weight
Samit Patel is a big lad, and his weight issues are very well documented. However, after a couple of years of apathy towards fitness, he spent the winter on the treadmill, and has lost a bit of weight. While he will never win any sort of bathing suit competition, the fact that Patel has been able to make the holy grail of Level 12 on the Bleep Test (a prerequesite of being an England player) shows that he is finally taking it all much more seriously. And the fact that he's been named in the Lions squad shows the selectors definitely rate his talents, and want to welcome him back into the fold. While he is probably a fair way off test cricket, if he chips in with runs and wickets (mmm, chips) he could force his way back into the ODI team by the end of the summer.
The selectors don't like Adil Rashid
The numbers certainly stack up for Adil Rashid, as both a spinner and as a handy lower order batsman. Arguably the second best spinner in the country (behind Swann, obviously), and in top form this year, Rashid must be mystified about why he continually keeps being ignored by the powers that be. Nothing against Danny Briggs, who also has an awful lot of potential, but the prolonged invisibility of Rashid is beginning to smack of something sinister. It isn't a talent based snub - so is it a clash of personality?
I've always liked Graham Onions, and it's great to see him back in the fray after his long lay-off. The fact that Onions has been selected shows he's firmly in the selectors minds, and can be added to the incredibly strong pool of fast bowlers that includes Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn, Bresnan, Shahzad and even Dernbach.
Competition for Keepers
As well as extraordinary strength in fast bowling and batting, England have a reserve of top wicket-keepers ready to step up if required. Steve Davies and Craig Kieswetter have both had excellent starts to the season and have had international success, but neither have made the squad behind new double centurion Jonny Bairstow. This added competition can only be good, and any of the three could step up if Matt Prior got injured. Wicket keeping is in rude health at the moment.
English cricket is doing pretty well
All across the board the Lions side is very strong. Quite feasibly all of that squad could represent England this summer, which both shows the strength in depth that county cricket is producing at the moment. With the fixture congestion and burnout that many have been complaining about, the 'fringe' players may be getting more and more international cricket, and England certainly wouldn't be let down by any of these players.
There's a lot we can learn from this squad announcement - and it will be interesting to see how they do against the Sri Lankans. A strong performance from a player, and it may not be the last time they play against Sri Lanka this summer...