Well, thank Christ that’s over. Watching England’s joyous, enthusiastic celebrations at the Rose Bowl at the end of the current ODI series against Pakistan last night felt like the breaking of a fever, or the lancing of a boil – the relief is bliss, but you would rather the disease didn’t come back any time soon.
Don’t get me wrong, the cricket itself was fascinating and the fact it went down to the last game made it more so, but much of the fascination was from a morbid, rubber-necking car-crash perspective, given the background of spot-fixing, scandal and Ijaz Butt. I’m not going to go into all that again because I am really just glad it is over, as I’m sure you all are, as I’m sure the England team is. The only thing left to say is that I would love to welcome back a Pakistan team, bursting as it is with talent, but not until all corruption has been cleansed from its ranks. Signs are this is not likely to happen soon, but we live in hope. I am not one of those who advocate the scorched-earth policy of banning Pakistan entirely from the world cricket arena, but something tells me this is the last England-Pakistan series we will have seen for a long time.
Anyway, enough of all that.
2:30 this afternoon at The Oval gave us the ridiculous scenario of Mike Atherton, standing in front of a big screen, ready to introduce a film clip naming this year’s England Ashes squad, a clip produced with all the slick bombast the ECB could muster and giving us a list already in the possession of news editors ready to click “update” on their websites on the stroke of 2:30 while the great ignorant unwashed were still digesting the news.
In brief: Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar are in; no room for Adil Rashid or Ajmal Shahzad. Shahzad is in the Performance Squad; Rashid is not. Another notable absentee – from both squads – is Ravi Bopara, who will be playing first class cricket in South Africa. I am very pleased to see Tremlett given this opportunity, as I’ve been a fan of the guy since I saw him at Trent Bridge in 2007, where he took 3-12 in India’s second innings when they only needed 73 to win. He got a lot of applause from the fans in the stands that day, and seems a bowler reborn this year after moving to Surrey after criticism that he wasn’t aggressive enough: I’m hoping his prodigious height and ability to bang it in will pay dividends on the hard, bouncy Australian wickets.
Monty Panesar is also back, and will add backup to Graeme Swann should they require two spinners at Adelaide or Sydney. He acquitted himself well at the WACA in 2006, taking 5-92, in a series that turned into a relentless drubbing for England. Australia are not the team they were back then, but England will still need to pull out all the stops to beat them; this will be no cake walk.
In other good news, Leicestershire’s own wunderkind batsman, James Taylor, has been included in the Performance Squad. I would have liked to have seen Nathan Buck picked as well – perhaps it is still too early for him – but Taylor will be in Australia, during the Ashes, and well, given an injury or two, who knows?
The countdown to the Ashes starts now. Am I excited? Oh hells yes.