I am very pleased to see Andrew Strauss included in the Somerset team to play a three-day game against the Indians at Taunton in mid-July, ahead of the four-Test series which will provide not just the high point of this summer’s international schedule but also England’s stiffest examination yet of their ambition to become the best team in the world.
A forward-thinking England management – and thank goodness we have at last got that – and an equally far-sighted Somerset hierarchy have worked together to do exactly the right thing for the national team.
The criticism from some quarters about Strauss being included in the Somerset side is ridiculous and well wide of the mark. The counties are there to work with the England set-up – it’s simply a question of pulling together.
No young player is going to miss out because Strauss has been given a game as a guest. James Hildreth, Jos Buttler and Lewis Gregory, for instance, will all play against the Indians – I am sure of that.
It will be a more senior player who will be stood down to make way for Strauss – and possibly even Marcus Trescothick, who as we all know is no longer available for England anyway.
I can’t second-guess Somerset’s selection plans for the game, which starts on July 15, but I would not be at all surprised if Trescothick, who plays in every game for his county and is so important to them as both captain and destructive opening batsman, has a few well-earned days off.
That’s why this decision to include Strauss is totally right, and indeed progressive in its thinking. It’s a win-win situation for everyone who has England cricket at heart. Strauss himself should get two innings against India’s bowlers, both to work on his own game and – in the match generally – to have a good close look at what they’ve got.
If it helps him and England to be successful in the actual Tests then that can only be good for English cricket generally. If England do well, more people want to come to watch and more sponsors want to get involved, and that in turn feeds down into the county game.
Somerset, too, in the short term, will undoubtedly sell a few more tickets to people who want to get the chance to see the England captain bat at Taunton, and the county should be applauded not knocked for their positive thinking. It’s not a County Championship fixture, for goodness’ sake, but a tourist match and counties rarely play their strongest teams in those games anyway.
Strauss, of course, is the only England Test player currently out of form, following the 1-0 series win against Sri Lanka, although Stuart Broad undoubtedly needs a few more wickets at Test level.
Broad, who has had two quite serious injuries during the winter months, is now involved in the one-day series against Sri Lanka and that will undoubtedly help him to get a bit more rhythm into his bowling.
It seems obvious that England are going to stick with their policy of playing six batsmen, plus Matt Prior as wicketkeeper, and just four frontline bowlers when the India Tests begin, and you cannot really argue with that given the success that the team has enjoyed over the last couple of years.
I am sure, given Jimmy Anderson’s niggling back problems in particular, that the England management and selectors are constantly looking at the four-bowler policy, and perhaps players such as Samit Patel, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes – besides Tim Bresnan, when he regains fitness – might come into the equation at some stage if they prefer to include a fifth recognised bowler in the final XI.
The good thing for England is that they do have these sort of options, and my personal view is that Stuart Broad is quite capable of moving up to the No 7 position in the near future anyway.
Broad needs to be given that little bit more responsibility with the bat, because in my experience if you are going in No 7 you tend to play like a No 7 – but if you go in at nine, ten or eleven you end up playing like a tailender. Broad has significant ability with the bat, as he has already shown at Test level, and as a No 7 batsman and third or fourth seamer he could be a huge success.
The other option for England, if they ever need to go in with two specialist spinners, is to recall Monty Panesar as part of a five-man attack. He is bowling very well again for Sussex and would provide an ideal foil to Graeme Swann.
But, whatever England do when India are here, they are beginning to look like a genuine world-class side with most bases covered. Chris Tremlett and Eoin Morgan were big pluses from the Sri Lanka series, as was the confirmation that Ian Bell is a true world-class batsman and Kevin Pietersen’s return to form.
Cook and Trott continue to provide real solidity at the top of the order, although Zaheer Khan is a good enough bowler to ask them questions as well as Strauss with the new ball.
Overall, though, I see the outcome of the India Test series as being how well England’s bowlers do against the Indian batsmen. England’s batting strength is such that I see them making enough runs, but can they take 20 Indian wickets? We will find out, of course, and I’m predicting a truly fascinating series.
*John Emburey is a former England captain and played in 64 Tests