Bell's chance to give the selectors a dilemma

A new look Brit Oval, halfway through a much-needed £24m face-lift, will not be given the pleasure of cheering on one of its own in the fourth Test. In 2003 Surrey supplied England with four players for the fifth Test against South Africa, but following Graham Thorpe's withdrawal from the squad with a fractured finger, there will not be a "Brown Hatter" in sight.

A new look Brit Oval, halfway through a much-needed £24m face-lift, will not be given the pleasure of cheering on one of its own in the fourth Test. In 2003 Surrey supplied England with four players for the fifth Test against South Africa, but following Graham Thorpe's withdrawal from the squad with a fractured finger, there will not be a "Brown Hatter" in sight.

The loss of Thorpe is a blow to England but it allows Ian Bell to make his much-awaited Test debut. The Warwickshire batsman deserves this unexpected opportunity. He has had a sensational summer for his county and is currently the third highest run-scorer in first-class cricket. The 22-year-old has posted six centuries, including a career-best unbeaten 262 against Sussex, and arrives in South London in top form. In his last five championship innings he has scored 155, 96 not out, 112, 181 and 121.

Before England's selectors gained the trust of their players, this Test match, the final game of the summer, was often viewed with suspicion by those invited to play.

By this stage of the season the Test series has normally been decided and players with niggling injuries would pull out so that they did not do their chances of gaining selection for the winter tour any harm. Indeed one spinner, who shall remain nameless, was heard singing in the showers after being told he was not required to play here.

In order to fill these gaps England have often picked players - like Bell - who have had good domestic seasons, and this has led to The Oval being responsible for 17 "one-Test wonders", the last of which was Alan Wells. The fact that England picked four of these cricketers - Wells, Joey Benjamin, Neil Williams and John Stephenson - between 1989 and 1995 highlights why selection for this Test gained such a poor reputation.

But times have changed and this current crop of selectors shows far greater consistency. And this, along with Bell's class, will ensure that he gets further opportunities should he fail to perform here.

"He has a similar opportunity to those that Andrew Strauss and Robert Key had this summer and we hope he can take it in the same way the other two have," said Michael Vaughan, the England captain.

"He has played well for Warwickshire and scored a bag-full of runs, and will bat at five. It is a big game for him but he needs to treat it like any other game.

"Test debuts are always very difficult, whatever the situation you find yourself in, but this is as good a time as you are going to get to make your debut. We have won a number of games, the team are confident and we are playing some good cricket. We just hope that 'Belly' is up to the occasion. He seems a pretty relaxed sort of guy so hopefully that will be the case when he goes out to bat.

"We will miss Thorpey's experience but we have been very fortunate that the guys who have come in this summer have taken those opportunities. Hopefully Ian can come in and create a few more headaches for the selectors."

The form of Vaughan's team, who having won six consecutive Test matches this summer are now one victory away from equalling the best ever winning streak by an England side, means that there are very few places available for this winter's tour of South Africa.

But Thorpe's injury has given Bell the chance to push his name in front of the selectors. The balance of England's touring party will decide how many batting places are available - should they take a fifth specialist fast bowler with them, one of either Bell, Key or Mark Butcher will be left at home.

The final place in England's side will, predictably, be between James Anderson and Simon Jones. The Oval pitch is not as quick and bouncy as it was in the Nineties but it is still one of the fastest pitches in the country and this, along with Anderson's disappointing bowling in the last two Tests, could lead to Jones gaining a recall.

In an attempt to avoid a whitewash the West Indies will once again change their side but it is difficult to see any combination gaining consolation. Carlton Baugh will keep his place behind the stumps following Ridley Jacobs' return to the Caribbean, and Dave Mohammed may find himself making way for Dwayne Smith.

The Bajan, who scored a hundred on his Test debut eight months ago, would add greater depth to the visitors' batting, and four hours of him and Brian Lara at the crease would more than make up for the lack of Surrey players on show.

England (from): M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), A J Strauss (Middlesex), R W T Key (Kent), I R Bell (Warwickshire), A Flintoff (Lancashire), G O Jones (Kent, wkt), A F Giles (Warwickshire), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), S P Jones (Glamorgan), S J Harmison (Durham), J M Anderson (Lancashire).

West Indies (from): B C Lara (capt), C H Gayle, D S Smith, R R Sarwan, S Chanderpaul, S C Joseph, D J J Bravo, C S Baugh (wkt), P T Collins, D R Smith, F H Edwards, D Mohammed, C D Collymore, J E C Lawson.

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