England Complete Ashes Build-Up

England

England completed a satisfactory build-up to the Ashes series, with nearly all their leading batsman making runs against Warwickshire.

England completed a satisfactory build-up to the start of the Ashes series, with nearly all their leading batsman making runs in the drawn practice match against Warwickshire.

Having suffered a delayed start to the third and final day at Edgbaston because of steady rain, England finally declared 507 runs ahead on 319 for three – after Ravi Bopara had claimed another century and both Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior reached 50.

It left only Kevin Pietersen and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who batted just once, as the only players from their likely top seven for next week's opening Test in Cardiff to have failed to pass 50 over the last three days as the game fizzled out into a draw with Warwickshire on 27 for three.

The selectors, who meet tomorrow in Worcester to decide the squad for the first Test which will be announced on Sunday, enter their meeting in a fortunate position of having a confident and in-form set of players to choose from .

England had resumed on 185 for two when rain finally ceased in mid-afternoon and Bopara, who had scored centuries in his last three Test appearances for England, continued that sequence by progressing from 88 overnight to another hundred.

Bopara, who has now cemented the number three position for Cardiff, hit 13 fours and a six in his innings before retiring as out at the end of that over to allow Sussex wicketkeeper Prior an opportunity to spend time at the crease.

Having missed the ICC World Twenty20 tournament, Prior was in as much need of time at the crease as Durham all-rounder Collingwood, with neither player reaching 20 in the first innings.

Collingwood looked particularly scratchy during the early part of his innings, but delivered another determined knock to finish unbeaten on 79 after over two hours at the crease.

Prior was much more fluent against an inexperienced Warwickshire attack and raced to an unbeaten 50 off 67 balls, which included five fours and a six, before England declared.

The timing of the declaration at tea left those few spectators in the ground under the impression they were going to push for victory in the minimum of 29 overs remaining in the final session.

England certainly seemed to set off with that intent with Stuart Broad removing Warwickshire captain Ian Westwood in the sixth over of their reply and Jim Troughton was run out later in the same over.

Flintoff added extra aggression to unsettle 17-year-old Ateeq Javid, first forcing him to duck under a bouncer before bowling a full-length delivery next ball which he edged to first slip.

But with a potential 17 overs remaining, both sides accepted the draw with England content they had got as much out of the match as they could have hoped in the build-up to Cardiff.

All 11 players featured in the game are expected to be included in the squad announced by National Selector Geoff Miller, but England are also expected to add a couple of more options.

Ian Bell is expected to be given the spare batting spot following the retirement of Michael Vaughan – his only serious rival – last week but the selectors have a bigger dilemma about who to include as the bowling cover.

Steve Harmison and Graham Onions have both impressed during England Lions' encounter with Australia in Worcester while Ryan Sidebottom claimed a couple of wickets for Nottinghamshire in their championship match against Lancashire at Trent Bridge.

Despite Harmison's success in removing dangerous opener Phil Hughes in both innings of that match, he is unlikely to be included in England's squad just yet with the selectors wanting greater consistency for Durham before they consider him.

They are instead expected to go for the extra experience and different option of Sidebottom as a left-arm seamer, who will join up with a squad full of confidence and happy with their preparation after three days in Birmingham.

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