HE was expecting to spend his winter honing his batting in India, but Phil Mustard believes there is a place “up for grabs” as England’s Test wicketkeeper after instead being one of four players promoted to the five-day squad for the first time after impressing in the limited overs series win over Sri Lanka.
The wicketkeeper from Washington will return to the islands as part of a 16-man party to play three Tests in December. And with first-choice gloveman Matt Prior not handed a central contract, the Durham player knows it represents an opportunity to stake his claim in the longer form of the international game.
For some the omission of Andrew Strauss was the big shock in yesterday’s announcement but Mustard insists he had not seen his own elevation coming.
“I was surprised in a way,” said the 25-year-old who, like Graeme Swann, Chris Broad and Ravi Bopara will be looking to make his Test debut. “I was looking the previous day and I thought we would only take one keeper for a three-match series, so I thought it would just be Matt Prior. There’s a place up for grabs. You have to play the games and see where it gets you.”
Prior made an exceptional start to his Test career, scoring an unbeaten 126 on debut against West Indies. Although he still averages 39 with the bat, Prior’s form tailed off and his glovework became untidy. The Sussex player missed England’s 3-2 one-day series win in Sri Lanka with a broken hand and will be under pressure on his return.
Mustard forced his way into the set-up with some explosive one-day knocks and improved keeping but his batting in the longer form of the game was the least impressive facet of his game last season.
“In the overall season I scored over 2,000 runs so you’ve got to be happy with that,” countered Mustard. “It’s an area I need to work on, but you work on all areas of your game day in, day out. I need to build on my starts but that’s what happened in the one-day series.
“It’s always nice when you’ve seen the conditions but they will be different for the Tests. The games are in the day so we’ve got to prepare for the heat.”
Mustard will be in an ideal environment to improve. “I was planning to go to India to work on my batting against spin,” he said. “During the one-day series there were quite a few keepers there to give me advice – (England coaches) Peter Moores, Andy Flower and Mark Garraway. I should be able to learn a lot. My aim now is to just try to consolidate a place in the Test side and go from there. I’m not thinking beyond this series.”
Spinner Swann, pace bowler Broad, all-rounder Bopara and batsman Owais Shah were rewarded for impressive 50-over performances against Sri Lanka. Bopara and Shah’s ability against spin cost Durham University graduate Strauss, who narrowly missed the Ashes captaincy last year. But chairman of selectors David Graveney insists the centrally-contracted opener is still in contention for next year’s tour of New Zealand.
“Andrew Strauss needs to recover his best form,” he explained. “We fully anticipate he will have a major role to play with England in the next 12 months. Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara are both fine players of spin bowling and their performances for the one-day side recently have demonstrated they have the temperament required to succeed at the highest level.
“Phil Mustard is familiar with the conditions and will be ideally placed to deputise for Matt Prior.”
Mustard will be joined by club-mates Paul Collingwood and Steve Harmison. The Ashington bowler will play two four-day games for Highveld Lions in South Africa in preparation and join the squad subject to him proving he has recovered from a back injury.