England grow in staying true to 11 good men

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The Independent Online

In the 123-year history of Ashes cricket England have only once picked the same team for each Test in a series, and these were the cricketers who helped Shrewsbury retain the "little urn" when England defeated Australia 3-2 in 1884-85.

The last two Tests of this summer's thrilling Ashes contest will determine whether Michael Vaughan's side achieve similar success. Barring injury, England can expect to field the same 11 players in each of the five Tests.

After a 239-run drubbing in the first Test at Lord's there were calls for two or three players to be dropped. Geraint Jones, Ian Bell and Ashley Giles received the greatest criticism but the selectors stood firm.

This has not always been the case. In the 1980s and 1990s the views of the selectors used to change like a bookmaker's odds during the first three Tests. In each of the eight series since England last won the Ashes in 1986-87 the selectors have used at least 16 players, but England have averaged 20 players a series - in 1989 and 1993 they used 29 and 24 respectively.

The performance of the present team, and each of the individuals within it, has allowed David Graveney, Duncan Fletcher and Geoff Miller to be consistent in their selection. The players have benefited from knowing that they will not be dropped after one poor match.

Even now, with the series beautifully poised at 1-1, there are still a couple of players who might have been replaced in the past. Geraint Jones scored useful runs in both innings at Old Trafford. He also took a brilliant reflex catch to dismiss Shane Warne on Monday. But he still drops more balls than he should as a wicketkeeper and sooner or later they will prove costly.

Jones missed two simple chances to dismiss Warne on Saturday evening in Manchester. It would be wrong to blame him for England's failure to defeat Australia, though, because Kevin Pietersen dropped a straightforward catch at mid-wicket on Monday and Michael Vaughan could have declared four or five overs earlier than he did on Sunday. Each of these mistakes ultimately cost England the match, because each would have given them more than the 24 balls they had against Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath.

In different circumstances the place of Matthew Hoggard would also need to be monitored. Hoggard's figures - seven wickets at an average of 33.5 - are not too bad, but the way in which Vaughan has used him suggests that his bowling does not fill him with confidence.

Hoggard is a conventional swing bowler and it is his job to strike with the new ball. He has done this on a couple of occasions but only one of his six opening spells has lasted more than five overs. The ability of Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones to reverse swing the old ball has reduced Hoggard's workload, and even though he picked up two second-innings wickets at Old Trafford, he needs more.

Trent Bridge, the venue for Thursday's fourth Test, could be just the place. Nottingham is a ground where conventional swing is more prevalent than reverse. The outfield is lush and the pitch tends not to crack up, or be as abrasive as those used at Old Trafford and Edgbaston.

Whenever Simon Jones limps off a cricket field one tends to fear the worst, but it was nothing more than cramp which led to his early departure in the last Test.

England's only fitness doubt is their 12th man in the first three Tests, Chris Tremlett, who had an injection in his knee earlier this week but is expected to play for Hampshire in today's Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy semi-final against Yorkshire.

Should he fail to come through, who would be next? There are plenty of young bowlers knocking around, but playing one of them in this intense and volatile Ashes series would be a gamble.

The centrally contracted James Anderson has taken 38 Championship wickets for Lancashire this season, but he is still some way from his best. Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis is still recovering from a broken hand.

This leaves the selectors looking for an old pro who has seen it all before to act as cover. Darren Gough has strained a hamstring and Dominic Cork - five wickets at an average of 50 - has not worried Australia in the past.

So enter Andrew Caddick. He is beginning to look as if he played in 1884-85, but he still believes he is good enough for this level. There is an outside chance he may get the chance to show it.

ENGLAND (probable, for fourth Test v Australia, Trent Bridge, Thursday) M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, A Flintoff, G O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, S P Jones, C T Tremlett or A R Caddick.

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