With a World Cup on home soil less than 12 months away, the selectors believe it is more important to test the potential of certain players than fret over the current job in hand - which is to beat South Africa in this week's Texaco series. Better finding out now, they reason, if newcomers like Chris Adams and Darren Maddy can hack it, than in a year's time.
At a push, perhaps both goals can be achieved and England will surely start favourites. They have not lost a home one-day series since Australia beat them in 1993. Mind you, South Africa are an efficient one-day outfit, whose aggressive bowling and fielding often overcome shortfalls caused by their variable batting.
To combat the first of those strengths, the selectors have brought in Maddy and Adams, neither of them capped. According to David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, Maddy will definitely play, batting at five, while Adams and the recalled Alistair Brown vie for what amounts to a second pinch-hitting spot at No 3. Nick Knight performing the initial role as Alec Stewart's opening partner.
The problematic No 3 position falls vacant through the non-selection of Ben Hollioake. It is a move that may appear curmudgeonly to some, but one the selectors are hoping will provide the necessary jolt to ensure the young all-rounder's future inclusion is purely on the grounds of merit and not potential.
Brown and Adams are savage strikers of a cricket ball who have begun the season well. "The pair have played with admirable consistency in a variety of roles and have been among the runs," Graveney confirmed. Others considered were Nasser Hussain and Matthew Maynard, the latter ruled out due to an injured thigh.
However, the wisdom of having two essentially front-foot hitters against the pace of Allan Donald and Shane Pollock, not to mention Lance Klusener, seems curious to say the least. Even on the slow flat pitches of Sharjah, it was plain that Brown struggled to fulfil the big hitting role whenever bowlers with pace, like Wasim Akram or Courtney Walsh, got the ball straight and above waist high.
Maddy's selection, after an impressive A tour last winter - a trip managed and coached by the current selectors Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, respectively - is thought to be a precursor of his inclusion as Michael Atherton's partner for the Test matches later on.
Giving players a foretaste can be a sensible thing, but it also gives the opposition an opportunity to have a probe and a poke, too. Yesterday, Maddy and his team-mate Chris Lewis celebrated their call-ups by taking part in a drugs test at Bristol where Leicestershire were playing Gloucestershire.
Although it is too early to say whether or not Lewis has been taking anything for the inconsistency that has dogged his career, he remains, on paper at least, a blueprint for the perfect one-day player.
"Chris's bowling," Graveney said, "will hopefully give us more of a cutting edge in the first 15 overs. That is what we lacked in the West Indies." The chairman is right enough about that, although whether Lewis's extra pace comes with the extra gumption needed in what is now the most crucial part of a one-day match remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, he will almost certainly share the new ball with Darren Gough, while Angus Fraser remains on standby should any of the three pitches - at the Oval, Old Trafford or Headingley - contain excessive grass or moisture.
Ashley Giles, having missed the debacle in the Caribbean where England lost 4-1, returns suffering none of the reputation damage experienced by some of the other all-rounders. On a big ground like the Oval, his left-arm spin will probably complement Robert Croft's off-spin. It may do, throughout the three-match series although, as the captain Adam Hollioake will no doubt agree, having too much choice to hand can sometimes be a distraction.
Unless England are thrashed 3-0, the core of the World Cup side is firmly in place. The shape of the team: a few pinch hitters; a couple of conventional stroke players; a smattering of all-rounders and a handful of specialists; is also beyond the prototype stage.
What remains, and what the selectors will no doubt be hoping to achieve over the course of the next 10 months, is to fine tune the fringes. For those involved, there is much to play for, including a World Cup, which, despite a presence in three finals, England have yet to win.
to face South Africa in the Texaco Trophy one-day series.
N V Knight (Warwicks) 28 21
A J Stewart (Surrey wkt) 35 99
A D Brown (Surrey) 28 7
C J Adams (Sussex) 28 0
G P Thorpe (Surrey) 28 44
D L Maddy (Leics) 23 0
A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt) 26 14
M A Ealham (Kent) 28 14
M V Fleming (Kent) 33 9
C C Lewis (Leics) 30 51
R D B Croft (Glamorgan) 27 23
A F Giles (Warwicks) 25 1
D Gough (Yorkshire) 27 38
A R C Fraser (Middlesex) 32 36Reuse content