Cricket: Time to close Hick's innings: Martin Johnson looks at England's options in team selection for the decisive fifth Test against Pakistan

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AS THE horses for courses policy is no less relevant for The Oval than it was at Headingley (one involves a pitch best suited for a game of marbles, and the other ideal for staging a trampolining event) England's cricket selectors will almost certainly make changes to a winning team for the fifth and final Test match, which starts on Thursday.

If lack of variety was the key to levelling the series at Headingley - dob it on the spot and watch the batsman attempt to shovel it off his ankles - then the opposite is true of The Oval, where a good length ball is not immune from being despatched over the Gasometer.

When the selectors sit down this evening, therefore, the insurance policy of a seventh batsman is likely to be the first item to hit the wastepaper basket - and unless they now decide that they can perhaps keep him in by making him wicketkeeper, Graeme Hick surely has to go this time.

None the less, as England lean ever further towards the view that a specialist wicketkeeper represents a wasted place, a recall for Jack Russell appears unlikely. Ironically, this has now become unfair on Alec Stewart, whose batting cannot fail to be affected by being yo-yoed up and down the order, depending upon whether or not England win the toss.

Winning the toss at The Oval is pretty important. Pakistan won it on their last visit in 1987, and ran up a total of 708 against an England attack of Graham Dilley, Neil Foster, Ian Botham, John Emburey, and Phil Edmonds.

Two spinners is something of a rarity nowadays, but England, especially if they bat first, would much prefer to have Ian Salisbury and Philip Tufnell on hand instead of an assortment of identikit medium pacers. For similar reasons, Devon Malcolm is likely to return to the squad, and if Phillip DeFreitas proves his fitness in the Roses match, he is an automatic selection.

Malcolm could, of course, be omitted on the grounds that he causes too much controversy by getting hit on the helmet, and another potential fracas arose yesterday involving Pakistan's wicketkeeper, Moin Khan.

Moin is alleged to have aroused the suspicions of the BBC's cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, for appearing to perform an ice-skater's pirouette on an ideal length for Mushtaq Ahmed during the last Test, and a TV video of the incident was sent to the Test and County Cricket Board.

However, its chief executive, A C Smith, moved swiftly to declare the 'matter closed' yesterday and when Smith moves swiftly, it is a fair indication that this fraught series is not in need of any additional stirring as the final, crucial game approaches.

ENGLAND 12 (possible): Gooch, Atherton, Smith, Gower, Stewart, Ramprakash, Lewis, DeFreitas, Salisbury, Mallender, Tufnell, Malcolm.