England Selection: Be Consistent or Be Bold?

Tom EdwardsCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2008

If it ain’t broke….

It seems likely that England will name an unchanged XI for a record six consecutive tests to face a strong South Africa team at Lords next Thursday.

It has been a feature of selection since the run up to the 2005 Ashes to try and keep a settled side and central contracts have build the base for this. The argument for consistency is strong.

Four wins in the last five test matches has set a useful platform for England to build upon. Indeed, the two series wins over New Zeland is promising, but they were a team struggling in the batting department, unable to deal with the early summer English conditions.

South Africa, however, will be a far tougher prospect. They have a team brimming with potential match winners, from Smith and Kallis to Steyn and Nel. They will certainly not let England off the hook like the Kiwi’s did repeatedly.

So, should England keep faith with the same XI?

In terms of the bowling attack, suddenly the selectors look spoiled for choice with the "Ashes Four" back playing well for their counties. Flintoff bowled 19 overs without a scare vs. Sussex. Simon Jones took seven wickets for Worcestershire and Hoggard and Harmison (clean bowling a certain M Vaughan this week) built up some form since being cast aside in the winter.

If the good ship England runs a ground early in the choppy South African waters, the prospect of calling on these options will be tempting. Having moved on, by choice, from Hoggard and Harmison they seem the least likely to restart their test careers. Flintoff and Jones however could add some fire and variety to the attack.

Flintoff’s batting aside, he is still England’s best bowler and has the ability to lift any side. Rushing him back would be foolish and also unnecessary, but England shouldn’t be too careful with their star man, especially when faced with the best in the world.

If Simon Jones continues to recapture his best form and reverse swings the ball, then he must play. It may be in place of the erratic Jimmy Anderson, but England has failed to replace him since 2005 with Saj Mahmood, Liam Plunkett, and Chris Tremlett all falling short.

A pace quartet of Sidebottom, Broad, Flintoff and Jones is an exciting prospect, and I believe the selectors should be bold and put England’s best foot forward.

The top six is equally far from settled. Collingwood and Bell need a strong series to keep Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara out of the middle order. I think that both will strengthen their positions as Collingwood has shown he is a battler and Bell has all the talent in the world.

It would be helpful to the side if both proved their batting worth, as they are good men to have in the field.

England will learn plenty about themselves during this series, especially about how much progress they have made under Peter Moores.

That’s only my opinion, what’s yours?

How should England line up next Thursday?