Bell back, but focus still on Flintoff
Ian Bell will resume his international career after being confirmed as Kevin Pietersen's replacement for the third Test against Australia. He was named in a 13-man squad for Edgbaston that also included Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar to provide bowling options, but England are hopeful that Andrew Flintoff will be fit.
After losing Pietersen for the rest of the series it is crucial to England's cause that they retain Flintoff for the remaining three Tests. The allrounder sent down a 10-over spell on the final day at Lord's as England wrapped up victory by 115 runs and despite feeling discomfort in his knee is desperate to finish his swansong series.
"Andrew's performance at Lord's was truly memorable and we are hopeful he can take his place in the side for the third Test as he continues to manage his knee injury," national selector Geoff Miller said. "Andrew and the medical staff are quite bullish about his prospects of playing but we'll continue to monitor his progress in the days leading up to Thursday."
Bell, who averages 25 in ten Tests against Australia, has been the spare batsman in the previous Tests and Andy Flower confirmed after the Lord's victory that he was next in line for a berth. Now that Pietersen has been ruled out for the series he will return to the side for the first time since being dropped following England's defeat against West Indies, at Sabina Park, in February.
He paid the price for an unconvincing run at no. 3 and a particularly limp shot in the second innings collapse in Jamaica. At the start of the summer he was told to show "more hunger" for a recall and has subsequently made 647 runs in the Championship at 64.70, although his haul was dented by a double failure in the recent match against Hampshire where he made 7 and 0.
The selectors may have been tempted to include another batting option in the party, but Bell is unchallenged on his return. "We have obviously had to make a change to the side following Kevin Pietersen's unavailability and we wish Kevin the best with his rehabilitation and look forward to his return to the England team in due course," Miller said. "Kevin's injury has presented an opportunity for Ian Bell who we know is a top-class batsman with an excellent international record for England
"Although we haven't named any extra batting cover in the squad we have several options should the need arise to call in another batsman."
There is still the question of where Bell will bat, but the least disruption would come with a straight swap for Pietersen at no.4. The other options are to return at first drop and push the struggling Ravi Bopara down the order or promote Paul Collingwood and put Bell at no. 5.
"Ian will be looking to make the most of his return to the side during an Ashes series and while we have a strong idea of where he will bat we won't be disclosing the final line-up of the side until the toss on Thursday," Miller added.
However, Bell's position is partly eased due to the lack of outstanding candidates elsewhere. If further injuries were to deplete the batting order, Robert Key, Joe Denly, Stephen Moore and Owais Shah would be the likely names for a call-up. Key has recently returned to form with a career-best 270, Denly and Moore impressed for England Lions against the Australians and Shah made a hundred for Middlesex last week.
Although the attack performed impressively at Lord's changes could still be made. Graham Onions is probably the most vulnerable, but Stuart Broad's lack of wickets is a growing issue.
Steve Rouse, the Edgbaston groundsman, described the pitch being like "jelly" earlier in the week, and said it would be a challenge to bring it up to standard for the Test after recent poor weather. A slow, low surface would decrease the chances of a recall for Harmison and it is unlikely England will return to a two-spinner attack.
Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Graham Onions, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar.