Butcher's class will counter Key's claims to keep Test spot

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The Independent Online

On the face of it yesterday's announcement that Andrew Flintoff is fit to resume bowling duties - coupled with Robert Key turning his maiden Test century into a double hundred - looks great for England.

On the face of it yesterday's announcement that Andrew Flintoff is fit to resume bowling duties - coupled with Robert Key turning his maiden Test century into a double hundred - looks great for England.

It might not be regarded quite so cheerfully by the British insurance market, not if the sum of those two elements add up to the end of Mark Butcher's Test career. The whiplash injury, the result of a collision with another car, which cost Butcher his place in this Test and opened the door for Key could become the grounds for a substantial claim for loss of earnings as a direct result of the accident.

And there is a case of sorts to be made against the classy Butcher, if only on form. With Flintoff able to revert to his all-rounder's role the selectors can cut only one from the following three: Marcus Trescothick, Key and Butcher.

Trescothick, a left-hander like Butcher, looks inviolate. His career average of 42.29 alone marks him out as top class. A further breakdown of his performances reveals that over the last nine months he has averaged over 40 and in the last six months, which includes the winter series in the Caribbean, that average hovers around 40.67. But in the last three months it is a staggering 64.4.

Butcher's figures hardly bear comparison. His career average is a disappointing 34.93 (32.38 in nine Tests against the West Indies). The improvement in his form over the last 36 months, since his comeback against Australia in 2001 has seen an average for that period of 41.97. But his runs have followed the law of diminishing returns more recently, 632 (at 31.6) over the last nine months, a more impressive 401 at 40.1 when the Caribbean tour is taken into account, before plummeting to 105 at 21 against New Zealand.

Form though, as professional sportspeople in the middle of troughs insist, is temporary; class is permanent, and Butcher has revealed a great deal of that against some quality attacks in the last three years.

Key, who was the first to reach 1,000 first-class runs this summer and now has seven centuries to his name this season, has a reputation in certain quarters for being a bully of average county bowling. And in the eyes of those same detractors, his double hundred came against an average Test attack.

In fact, Key is a lot better than that, but historically, selection, always subjective and invariably conservative, has plumped for the tried and trusted.

So when the squad for the second Test at Edgbaston is announced early next week it is likely that Butcher's name will have been inked in. But if Key has managed to unlock the door to a more permanent Test place, then the figures hovering around Butcher could be telephone numbers rather than Test runs, prefixed by a pound sign. A nation waits. An insurance company trembles.

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