Cricket: England toy with changes for Oval

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What to do if you are an England selector once the biggest prize has already gone? Cull those who have failed to retain the Ashes and experiment wildly to see how up and coming players respond to the Test arena? Or try to restore a semblance of pride and faith, by sticking with those you have already played during the summer?

Ideally, with a demanding tour of the West Indies ahead, the squad for next week's sixth and final Cornhill Test should comprise a bit of both; a compromise that will give those on the fringes - as the Hollioake brothers were - a taste of life in the cauldron against the most gladiatorial of opponents.

Continuity is fine if you are breeding poodles, however, but it takes little account of established players losing confidence, as some batsmen had done before Trent Bridge.

You only need to have witnessed the dire form of Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe to know that both could have been left out at Nottingham. Neither were and to confound those who felt they should have been, the Surrey pair notched up the two highest scores of the match. Was it a coup for continuity, though?

Probably not, for despite the runs, Stewart's return to opening the innings has caused more problems than it has solved and two players, Mark Butcher and Mark Ealham, had to be dropped to facilitate the move.

Fit as he is for a 34-year-old, keeping wicket and opening the innings is not a long-term option. Unless the selectors are going to demand the impossible from Stewart this winter, he should revert back to batting at either three or six.

No surprise, then, to find that David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, has been watching Steve James, Glamorgan's opening batsman, at Worcester. James is the season's leading scorer in first-class cricket and perhaps deserves to be given a chance. Alternatively, there will be many who feel Mark Butcher, dropped after Headingley, has done little wrong, other than to improve gradually.

The one setback with having James resume the opening partnership he forged with Michael Atherton in their days at Cambridge University is that both are accumulators who can get bogged down. With Nick Knight still indisposed by a broken knuckle, Butcher would probably be the sounder choice, though his inclusion would mean leaving one of the Hollioakes out, close to sacrilege in front of a parochial Oval crowd.

Another in the runs is Mark Ramprakash. Under consideration for the last Test, Ramprakash will almost certainly be included this time, probably at the expense of John Crawley, whose lack of a big first-innings score has made him vulnerable to the selectorial axe.

The bowling, inspired on occasion in the last Test, is likely to provide little change other than in the spin department. Having missed out on five Tests in a row, Phil Tufnell's left-arm spin will surely prevail this time; if only to offer the Aussies something other than Robert Croft's off-spin to cope with.

With Darren Gough unlikely to have fully recovered from his knee injury and Dominic Cork probably not quite ready for a return to the big time, the pace trio of Andy Caddick, Devon Malcolm and Dean Headley ought to remain intact.

The same cannot be said for Australia, who suddenly find themselves three pace bowlers short. Paul Reiffel (who returns to see his pregnant wife) Jason Gillespie (an aggravated back injury) and Brendon Julian (cracked wrist) will all be missing. What will not be absent is their collective determination to beat England for a fourth time.

ENGLAND (possible squad v Australia, sixth Test, The Oval, 21 August). M A Atherton, M Butcher, A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, A J Hollioake, B C Hollioake, R D B Croft, A R Caddick, D W Headley, D E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell.

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