In March, Monty Panesar calmly blocked out the last six balls of a Test match in Auckland to give England an unlikely - and arguably undeserved - draw against New Zealand. In the dressing room later, his comment to captain Alastair Cook was “The last time I did that, I didn’t play for two and a half years.” - an allusion to the first Ashes Test of 2009 in Cardiff, where he and James Anderson blocked for the best part of an hour to give England the draw which was ultimately the difference between them regaining the Ashes or not.
The bad news for Monty is that his rearguard action has been rewarded with being dropped for the fit-again Graeme Swann in England’s 12 man squad for the first game of the return series against New Zealand, which begins at Lord’s on Thursday.
In fairness, Panesar would probably not have played at all in New Zealand had Swann been fit, and after proving his form and fitness in county cricket it is no surprise that England have gone back to their most prolific off-spinner of all time.
Also gaining a recall was all-rounder Tim Bresnan, who has been out since the turn of the year after (like Swann) undergoing elbow surgery. Unlike Swann, it seems unlikely that the Yorkshireman will find a place in the starting lineup, unless the selectors for some reason decide not to back Steven Finn on his home ground.
England look set to field the same batting line-up that played in that Auckland game. Kevin Pietersen is still unfit - although scheduled to return in a county game on June 12 - so Jonny Bairstow looks set to bat at 6 with Joe Root at 5. The pair put on 135 for the England Lions in their weather-ruined drawn game against the New Zealanders this weekend. Root scored 179 runs in total, remarkably not even his highest score in the last fortnight, and looks to be the man in form for England. He’s listed at betting odds of 6/1 in most markets to top score for them in the forthcoming Test and looks very good value at that price.
New Zealand, for their part, would like to name an unchanged side, However, quick bowler Tim Southee is an injury worry, having picked up a foot problem in the England Lions game. If he misses out then Doug Bracewell will come in. Bracewell missed the England series in New Zealand, also with a foot injury. However, his was a cut caused by stepping on broken glass whilst clearing up after a party, another in a line of indiscretions which has kept him on the margins of the Black Caps’ side despite his undoubted talent.
On the positive side for New Zealand, opener Hamish Rutherford allayed fears about his ability to bat in English conditions during the same game. His 126 was not only his team’s highest score, it came at the highest stroke rate of any batsman, too. At 9/2 in most markets he’s worth adding to your sports picks to repeat the feat at Lord’s.
Looking at the match market, England remain odds on favourites at 4/7, with the visitors out as long as 9/1 with Ladbrokes. The canny bet here, though, is the draw. The weather forecast for London over the coming week is dire, with rain just about every day. Even allowing for the remarkable drainage system at the home of cricket, it is unlikely that Lord’s will see a full day of play on any day. That is unlikely to leave either side time to bowl the other out twice, so at 9/4 with Stan James the draw is my hot tip for this game.
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