Peter Moores packed his bags for his first winter tour as England coach on Monday but he and his fellow selectors appear no closer to knowing who will travel with him to South Africa on Sunday for international cricket's inaugural Twenty20 tournament. Uncertainty and confusion currently surround Paul Collingwood's side as it prepares for today's crucial NatWest Series match against India at The Oval, Saturday's final home game of the summer at Lord's and the World Twenty20 Championship starting next week in Johannesburg.
Major fitness doubts still surround Andrew Flintoff, who visited a foot specialist yesterday evening, Chris Tremlett and Ryan Sidebottom. All three will need to show a significant improvement over the next four days if they are to take their places in England's 14-man squad. If that wasn't enough, Darren Maddy and Chris Schofield, Twenty20 specialists, have issues to resolve. Maddy missed Warwickshire's last game with an ankle injury while Schofield needed four stitches in a hand injury picked up dropping a catch in last night's Pro40 match at Canterbury.
The only player who knows his fate is Ravi Bopara, who was told on Monday evening that the thumb injury he sustained at Headingley on Sunday will take between four and six weeks to heal. England are yet to rule Bopara out of the five match one-day tour of Sri Lanka, which begins at the conclusion of the World Twenty20 Championship, but the fracture to his right thumb is more serious than many thought.
With so many issues still to be resolved and so many combinations to consider the selectors are yet to name a replacement for Bopara or possible replacements for Flintoff, Tremlett and Sidebottom but several bowlers and all-rounders would be well advised to check where their passports are and keep their mobile phones switched on. When the news comes they will not have much time to react.
Flintoff batted and tentatively joined in a fielding practice session yesterday at The Oval, and David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, revealed the scan he had on his left ankle on Saturday showed that there had been no further damage to the joint. "Flintoff has not yet been ruled out of selection for The Oval, Saturday or the Twenty20 but, understandably we have to wait for proper professional opinion before we act," Graveney said. "His mood is remarkably upbeat given his situation and the number of operations he has had.
"There have been discussions about replacements and we have agreed on a pool of players to pick from. It may not be like for like but we need to know how many need replacing. Who we pick from is not just limited to the [Ian] Bell's, [James] Anderson's and [Dimitri] Mascarenhas', players that are playing in the current NatWest Series. [Glen] Chapple and [Tim] Bresnan are also in the frame. It could be as late as Saturday before we finalise the squad and it will be a difficult logistical thing because the flight will be leaving the following day."
Before departing for Johannesburg England have the small matter of a one-day series to win, an issue that has almost been forgotten amidst all the unwelcome injury news.
It is hard to believe that Flintoff will play today and that the mindset of Collingwood's side has not been affected by the turmoil. The defeat to India at Headingley reduced England's lead to 3-2 with two games remaining and it would be a shame if the recent events were to undermine what they have so far achieved. Mascarenhas and Luke Wright will compete for Bopara's place and England will be tempted to play Sidebottom to see whether he is fit for South Africa. If Sidebottom plays Jon Lewis is expected to make way.
The absence of Bopara and Flintoff will drastically limit the options open to England and unbalance the side. Bopara, a high quality batsman capable of scoring first-class double hundreds, batted at eight during the win at Old Trafford but today's game will see either Mascarenhas or Wright, dangerous hitters, coming in at No 7.
A view of the pitch at The Oval would not have filled England with joy. It is the same surface as that used during the Twenty20 matches against the West Indies at the end of June and it is expected to assist the spinners. Monty Panesar is England's sole spinner whilst the Indians, whose batsmen play the turning ball particularly well, have plenty of options.
India are unlikely to make any changes to the team that won in Leeds. The top order enjoyed the reassurance of an extra batsman and the spin bowling of Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar could be as crucial as their batting.
* Richard Bevan, the Chief Executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, will stand down at the end of 2007. Bevan will begin a similar role with the League Managers' Association in January 2008.
Probable teams for The Oval
England (prob): PD Collingwood (c), AN Cook, MJ Prior (wkt), IR Bell, KP Pietersen, OA Shah, AD Mascarenhas, SCJ Broad, RJ Sidebottom, JM Anderson, MS Panesar.
India (prob): R Dravid (c), SR Tendulkar, SC Ganguly, G Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wkt), KD Karthik, R Powar, P Chawla, AB Agarkar, Z Khan.
Results: 21 Aug England won by 104 runs. 24 Aug India won by 9 runs. 27 Aug England won by 42 runs. 30Aug England won by 3 wkts. 2 Sept India won by 38 runs (D/L Method).
Fixtures: Today The Oval (10.15am).
Saturday: Lord's (10.15am).