However, the England committee has its own intelligence network and when one of their agents reported back to the underground bunker at Lord's over the weekend with the information that Australia are not planning to open the batting with Lawry and Simpson at Old Trafford on Thursday, the selectors refreshingly shot a glance towards the Nursery End as well as Old Father Time.
They could not quite bring themselves to go the whole hog - Mike Gatting is preferred to Mark Lathwell, who now goes back to county cricket having gained immeasurable experience in the big time as the Texaco dressing room attendant - but there are two, possibly three bowlers, who will be making their Test debuts at Old Trafford.
Andy Caddick, of Somerset, and Mark Ilott and Peter Such, of Essex, are all named in the XII, although it is the identity of the third specialist seam bowler which provides the biggest surprise. Quiz question. Who, along with Gladstone Small, took the new ball for England in the last Ashes Test match played in this country?
The answer (easy one, really) is Alan Igglesden, of Kent, who made his debut against the 1989 Australians at The Oval after something of an unflattering build-up from the then team manager, Micky Stewart, who described him as England's '17th choice' seamer.
Igglesden, who ended up doing reasonably well with 2 for 91 and 1 for 55, owed his selection on that occasion to three things. A calalogue of withdrawals, a three-way communication through a crackly mobile phone network, and a breakdown in communication between Stewart and the then captain, David Gower.
Firstly, Devon Malcolm and Angus Fraser withdrew from the original selection through injury and when Phil DeFreitas was called in as a replacement, having reversed his decision to join Gatting's team in South Africa, he pulled a hamstring. Send for Greg Thomas. 'Sorry, but I'm DeFreitas's replacement for South Africa.'
Steve Watkin, of Glamorgan, was then approached, but he was ruled out as 'too knackered', whereupon Stewart, Gower and Dexter picked up their mobiles and came up with three different ideas of who to contact next. Gower, 4-0 down and thoroughly brassed off, finally told Stewart to 'pick who you like' and when he arrived at The Oval he bumped into Igglesden. Cue conversation along the lines of: 'What are you doing here?' 'Micky told me to pop along.' 'Ah, righto.' With that sort of build-up, the miracle was that England managed to avoid defeat.
The build up to this one has scarcely been more encouraging. Last week, the captain decided to announce that Alec Stewart would be opening the batting and not keeping wicket. So, needless to say, Stewart will be keeping wicket and not opening the batting.
This is hard luck (again) on Jack Russell but a logical decision given that it allows for six batsmen and five bowlers, and Lathwell's omission also means that Graham Gooch will not be walking out with another opening partner (we have more or less lost count, but there have been something like 17) and resumes a liaison with Atherton that probably ought never to have been split in the first place.
Atherton's odds on leading the team in the West Indies this winter will have correspondingly shortened a touch, although Stewart is still thought to be ahead in the betting. For Gatting, the door is also ajar which, for someone who has a habit of putting his hand through those that are not, is good news.
The cricket he missed when he lacerated his hand on a glass panel has counted for less than the selectors looking for experienced older hands to combat the Australian attack, and Graham Thorpe is overlooked on that basis despite the fact that there is no left-hander (with apologies to Ilott) in the batting at all.
While rumour has it that the right- handed Michael Slater is running ahead of Matthew Hayden as Mark Taylor's opening partner, the opposition may have as many as three left- handers in their top five which, along with the fact that he was one of the few successes on the A tour to Australia, doubtless clinched Such's place in the XII ahead of Ian Salisbury. Playing for Essex does no harm, either.
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