England set for changes
Flintoff's absence prompts selection reshuffle for tourists
Last Updated: February 25, 2009 7:14pm
Bopara: pressed claims for Test recall with century in warm-up fixture
England must do without the services of Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff when they go in search of a series-levelling victory against West Indies in Barbados on Thursday.
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"I think the reality is that the reasons we dropped Ian Bell (after the first Test) haven't particularly changed. We feel that he needs to work on a few things and he needs to freshen up mentally."
Andrew Strauss Quotes of the week
Wicketkeeper Prior has returned home on paternity leave to visit his wife and new-born son, while all-rounder Flintoff is sidelined by the strained hip muscle he sustained during the drawn third Test in Antigua.
The duo's absence means the tourists must rethink the balance of their side for the fourth Test - with a four-man bowling attack appearing to be the most likely option despite being 1-0 down in the series.
Flintoff's position at number six in the batting order has allowed England to play five bowlers during the first three Tests - although the second of those at Antigua's Sir Viv Richards Stadium was abandoned on the opening morning due to an unsafe outfield.
An extra Test was swiftly added to the itinerary, starting two days later at the Antigua Recreation Ground. It turned out to be a classic as West Indies' last-wicket pair survived the final 10 overs in fading light to secure a draw and retain their advantage in the series.
There is no viable candidate to fill in for Flintoff in an all-round role and the conservative approach is for a specialist batsman - Ian Bell or the recently arrived Ravi Bopara - to come in at six.
Captain Andrew Strauss suggested in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday that Bopara, who has not featured in the five-day format since the tour of Sri Lanka 14 months ago, is the favoured option.
"I think the reality is that the reasons we dropped Ian Bell (after the first Test) haven't particularly changed," said Strauss.
"We feel that he needs to work on a few things and he needs to freshen up mentally.
"If he comes into the game then he wouldn't have had the opportunity to do that, or at least it would only have been a very short window to do that."
Tim Ambrose, who was axed at the end of last summer following a disappointing run of form against South Africa, will replace Prior behind the stumps for his 11th cap.
With England trailing in the five-match series, it is possible Ambrose - who boasts a career batting average of 24.73 - will be asked to do a job at number six, therefore allowing five bowlers to be retained.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann, fresh from taking eight wickets in Antigua, is only "85 percent" sure of playing due to an elbow injury, while fast bowler Steve Harmison is expected to be available despite a back problem.
Kent paceman Amjad Khan, along with Bopara, joined the squad from the second-string England Lions' tour of New Zealand and is in contention for an immediate debut - his cause helped by a five-wicket haul during the two-day warm-up fixture against an inexperienced Barbados Cricket Association President's XI.
Left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar could both be recalled, having been omitted following the first-Test defeat in Jamaica. Rookie leg-spinner Adil Rashid is another option.
Much depends on the condition of the Kensington Oval wicket - historically it has been hard, true and offered good carry for the quicks. The last seven Tests at the venue have all ended in positive results.
West Indies, meanwhile, have named a 13-man squad with batsman Lendl Simmons and seamer Lionel Baker joining the XI on duty at the ARG.
The hosts are set to retain the same starting line-up, although fast bowler Jerome Taylor's presence was put into question when he returned alone after Wednesday's net session for what appeared to be a fitness test.
Baker, the first player born in Montserrat to play international cricket, will come in for his second cap should Taylor be ruled out.
West Indies (from): C Gayle (capt), L Baker, S Benn, S Chanderpaul, F Edwards, R Hinds, B Nash, D Powell, D Ramdin (wkt), R Sarwan, L Simmons, D Smith, J Taylor
England (from): A Strauss (capt), Tim Ambrose (wkt), J Anderson, I Bell, R Bopara, S Broad, P Collingwood, A Cook, S Harmison, A Khan, M Panesar, K Pietersen, A Rashid, O Shah, R Sidebottom, G Swann