When Geoff Miller, the England selector, said after announcing their squad for the first Ashes Test that "it's not a sprint this series, it's a marathon," it was not just Steve Harmison's disappointment on missing out he was cushioning. The fickle fast-bowler had made a late charge for a bowling berth with a fiery burst for the England Lions, but was overlooked in favour of the man in possession, Graham Onions, who performed so well on debut against the West Indies.
The host nation will start tomorrow's opening Test in Cardiff with a healthy array of options, rather than scratching around for players who might make a difference, which has been the norm in Ashes summers past. Michael Vaughan ruled himself out the debate by retiring last week, but England's middle-order batting stock still looks healthy. Ian Bell, who was an Ashes winner in 2005, is the nominated first batting reserve at Sophia Gardens, but Owais Shah has also served a reminder he is ready and primed for action.
Shah, the wristy right-hander, was discarded after a run of low scores in the Caribbean in the winter, and his absence looked set to be a long term one when his replacement, Ravi Bopara, then reeled off three successive tons. However, Shah is back in the runs now, and posted 159 for his county side Middlesex last week. If an assurance was needed, he admitted he is still desperate to make a go of Test cricket. "I am certainly feeling in good nick if the call comes - I just have to make sure the call does come," said Shah who averages a shade under 27 in his six Test matches.
"You just have to keep producing runs. "I have been prolific, but you just have to keep producing and keep in the minds of the selectors, remind them I am still around and still desperate to play Test cricket." firstname.lastname@example.org