The fitness of Andrew Flintoff and the nature of the Old Trafford pitch will decide whether Gareth Batty gets another opportunity to test his skills against the best batsman in the world on Thursday. One hundred and thirty of the 400 runs Brian Lara scored against Michael Vaughan's side in Antigua came from the bowling of the Worcestershire off-spinner, but his selection in England's squad for the third Test gives him an outside chance of gaining some sort of revenge.
Removing Lara will be tough. The left-hander has wrongly been given out on two occasions in the first two Test matches and his luck is sure to turn. But the selectors will have noticed how circumspect the remainder of the West Indian batting line-up is against the turning ball. Ashley Giles is not the only spinner to have caused the tourists trouble during their 10-week tour of England. Derbyshire's Nathan Dumelow, an off-spinner with a first-class bowling average of 50, took 5-51 against a Laraless West Indian side on Thursday.
"We have picked Gareth Batty to give us cover and as an extra option," said David Graveney, the chairman of selectors. "Obviously we will need to look at the wicket before we make a decision on the final XI but recent matches at Old Trafford have indicated that the pitch may be responsive to spin."
If the pitch looks dry and the forecast is hot, England may well look to play Batty because James Anderson and Simon Jones have not yet looked like bowling the West Indies out. The pacemen have played in one Test each in this series but between them they have only claimed three of the 40 wickets taken - and these have come at the cost of 53 runs apiece.
Flintoff, rather than the pitch, could influence England's final XI. The Lancashire all-rounder has made a remarkable recovery from the ankle problem which threatened to prevent him bowling for the remainder of the season. But there still must be severe doubts as to how long the effects of a cortisone injection will last and England need to know that he is capable of bowling 20 overs in a day before they decide to go into a match with Flintoff as one of only three seamers.
The 26 year-old's rehabilitation has so far been looked after carefully by Michael Vaughan, his captain. At Lord's, Flintoff bowled 11.3 overs and at Edgbaston this was increased to 20. But should this pitch offer batsmen a good surface to play on, around 40 or 50 overs may be required from him during the next week.
While these 13 go in search of England's ninth win in 10 Test matches, Mark Butcher has other things to worry about. "The selectors have decided that Mark is not yet in a position to play a five day Test match and so he has not been selected for this squad," said Graveney. "He is still struggling with his thigh and there is a good chance that he may be unavailable for the fourth npower Test at the Oval as well."
England squad: M P Vaughan (capt), J M Anderson, G J Batty, A Flintoff, A F Giles, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, G O Jones, S P Jones, R W T Key, A J Strauss, G P Thorpe, M E Trescothick.Reuse content