Sheffield cricket ace in the big time

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Sheffield’s Joe Root will this morning be able to celebrate his latest hundred, for England Lions, with confirmation of his name in a highly-predictable squad for the first Test.

It is hard to imagine England’s selectors spent much time burning the midnight oil before announcing the first squad of this Ashes summer today.

Among the certainties to be in contention to face the Kiwis at Lord’s next week is Root (105no), fresh from his third hundred in only four first-class innings this season as the Lions reached 219 for two last night in reply to New Zealand’s 285 all out.There appears very little to exercise the grey matter in order to rubber-stamp the 12, or perhaps more likely 13 given the current addiction to conservatism, from which England will pick their XI in due course.

Such is England’s commitment to the progression and succession of new players through their Lions team to Test and central contracts that second-guessing the outcome of selection meetings has become a largely pointless pursuit.

On this occasion, despite England’s struggles to a 0-0 stalemate in New Zealand two months ago and with the heightened interest of back-to-back Ashes ever nearer, the variables are close to non-existent.

In the absence of the injured Kevin Pietersen, Root’s fellow Lion Jonny Bairstow remains the incumbent replacement even though he could muster only 18 runs in three attempts last winter.

The line-up of specialist batsmen next week will therefore conform to England’s treasured method of continuity, identical to the one bailed out at their last attempt by a heroic Matt Prior in his pivotal number seven position to salvage a famous draw in Auckland.

Two returns are in the offing among the bowlers, however, after Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan’s recoveries from elbow surgery.

Swann is talking a good game after one championship match and two limited-overs fixtures for Nottinghamshire, and eye-witness reports from Headingley insist Bresnan has rediscovered his snap too.

The upshot will almost certainly therefore be that Swann - one of England’s major weapons for the Ashes to come - is back as the only spinner.

Bresnan, meanwhile, can expect to be included in a 12 ahead of Graham Onions or a 13 alongside the Durham seamer.

With the exception of Swann in place of Monty Panesar and Pietersen once more missing with his bruised knee as he was at Eden Park, the players who collectively fell short in New Zealand will be asked to try to settle a score against the same opponents.

Probable squad (first Test v New Zealand, starting on May 16 at Lord’s): AN Cook (Captain), NRD Compton, IJL Trott, IR Bell, JE Root, JM Bairstow, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson, TT Bresnan, G Onions