The Ashes warm-up fixture between Warwickshire and England that starts on 1st July is bound to be a tense affair. Not only will players be wary of injury – the series opener begins at Cardiff seven days later – but many know they are taking part in the final chance to stake a place in England’s team.
Most spots have been definitely filled, including, unusually, the wicket keeper role. Matt Prior’s consistently excellent form with the bats in all formats, combined with more reliable glovework, has cemented his place in the team, to the point where he is expected to bat at number six.
However, the selectors are still casting their net wide to identify the rest of the keepers’ pecking order. James Foster was given a chance in the ICC World Twenty20, but the gloveman’s role in the Lions team for the match against Australia has gone to Steven Davies.
Tim Ambrose will also be under scrutiny, assuming he plays for the Bears against England next week. The discarded England keeper is doing a steady job in protecting his place as Prior’s understudy, although Davies’ runs for Worcestershire and Foster’s sparkling Twenty20 glovework are keeping the pressure on.
Ambrose did everything he could in the Caribbean earlier this year, scoring a fluent unbeaten 76 and keeping efficiently in his solitary Test appearance at Barbados. The selectors were reminded that if Prior was missing for more than one match his replacement could be fully trusted.
Ambrose’s ultimate aim is obviously to displace Prior, but he knows future chances are more reliant on the man in possession’s form than his own. A few runs and catches next week will be a good place to start in doing what he can to work his way back into the England set-up.
For now though, keep a close eye on the Lords Test odds for your early Ashes bets. If you need to get in the betting mood, check out Betfair's new fan v fan site.
By Philip Oliver