Cricket: Selectors placed in impossible position

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The Independent Online
It was inconceivable when we left Edgbaston on 7 June that England's cricket, then at its highest point for some time, could have sunk in eight short weeks to its present level.

It is an impossible situation for the selectors, who have this weekend to try to come up with a worthwhile team for the fifth Test at Trent Bridge.

England, well though they played, were never as good as they were allowed to appear in the first Test and the Australians were nothing like as bad as they managed to look then. Their batsmen and bowlers have subsequently come to terms with English conditions and the present situation is much closer to the truth.

Quite simply, Australia are in a different class to England. At Headingley this was glaringly obvious as three of their youngest players, Ricky Ponting, 22, Jason Gillespie, 22, and Matthew Elliott, 25, produced brilliant performances made even more remarkable by their assertiveness.

In nine days' time, England take on Australia again, at Trent Bridge. What on earth can the selectors and the team management do to try and ensure that Mike Atherton's side are at least competitive, which they have scarcely been in either of the last two Test matches.

First, they must look long and hard at the side which has just lost and one hopes they are not again over taken by misguided feelings of loyalty which caused them to reselect the losing XI at Old Trafford on the same day that they were beaten.

The pitch at Trent Bridge should make life easier for the batsmen, but harder for the bowlers. One can see as many as four changes being made for the fifth Test. Alec Stewart has shouldered so much responsibility for such a long time and he looks weary and needs a rest.

Graham Thorpe should have a spell away to sort out his thinking, while Robert Croft has been disappointing and Mike Smith has not looked up to it. If these players went, the four most likely replacements would be Jack Russell, Mark Ramprakash, Phil Tufnell and Andy Caddick but this is hardly a brave new world. Then, of course, there is the Ben Hollioake question...

Is a side with these replacements any more likely to give the Australians a real fight? The answer to that has to be no. Hollioake apart, there are no class players about and nothing is going to turn those in possession into significantly better cricketers by the middle of next week. There lies the selectors' dilemma.