London: England could include a second specialist spinner when they name their squad on Friday for a three-Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
Ongoing security concerns in Pakistan mean they will once again be playing a 'home' series in the UAE, and with pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi expected to take turn, England are likely to include a back-up to Graeme Swann. And if the surfaces in the UAE are as spin friendly as predicted, that may be enough for England, who this year climbed to the top of the Test rankings, to alter their policy of fielding Swann as the lone spinner in a four-man attack.
Left-armer Monty Panesar, who turns the ball the opposite way from off-break bowler Swann, will be hoping for a recall. Panesar, who like Nottinghamshire's Swann started his career with Northamptonshire, won the last of his 39 Test caps against Australia at Cardiff two years ago where his tail-end defiance with the bat helped England draw the opening match of the 2009 Ashes series.
Since then, Pansear has moved to Sussex and started to regain some of the form that took him into the Test match arena. Panesar's two leading rivals for the 'second spinner' spot would appear to be the uncapped duo of fellow left-armer Samit Patel, primarily a batsman, and 21-year-old leg-spinner Scott Borthwick.
Patel, welcomed back into the England set-up last year after publicly and humiliatingly being left out after failing to meet the required fitness levels, was a relative success during the team's 5-0 one-day international series loss in India in October. But were England to select Steven Davies, also a frontline batsman, as back-up wicket-keeper to Matt Prior, this could create room for an extra bowler.
England's selectors, chaired by former Test off-spinner Geoff Miller, could welcome back batsman Eoin Morgan following shoulder surgery and the former Ireland international's return may be at the expense of all-rounder Ravi Bopara.
Andrew Strauss's side are due to arrive in the UAE on January 3, with the opening Test getting underway in Dubai on January 17. After the Test series, Pakistan and England will play four one-day internationals and three Twenty20 matches.