England rule out blooding youngsters for final Test

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"Three nil looks a lot better than 2-1," was the view of Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, when asked whether he and his fellow selectors would be tempted to use next week's final Test as a game in which to have a look at a couple of younger players, with the series against Pakistan already won.

"I think it is crucial to win every game," said Fletcher, after England's 167-run victory at Headingley. "The England side is judged on the last game it plays and that is why it is not very pleasant when we lose. It hurts us more than anyone and that is why we have to make sure that we win this series 3-0. We want to give the players in our side as much experience as we possibly can."

Fletcher has always been reluctant to needlessly tinker with his team and, following these comments, it is difficult to see there being any changes to the side that won so convincingly in Leeds, when the squad is announced tomorrow morning.

After the first innings at Headingley, Sajid Mahmood's place in the side might have been in doubt but the four wickets the fast bowler picked up against Pakistan on the final day ended that debate.

The nature of The Oval pitch, which historically helps the spinners, will encourage the selectors to name a second slow bowler in their squad but he is not expected to play.

Jamie Dalrymple was selected as a second spinner before the Old Trafford Test, only to be released from the squad so that he could play for Middlesex. But Dalrymple is unlikely to be picked for The Oval after picking up a groin injury in this week's Championship match against Hampshire. The injury prevented the off-spinner from batting and bowling on the final day of the game, and his inclusion is in doubt.

The absence of Dalrymple means that Warwickshire's Alex Loudon may well find himself travelling to south London at the start of next week. The off-spinner toured Pakistan with England in November 2005 but failed to play a game. Loudon made his one-day debut against Sri Lanka and, after taking 5-49 in the first innings of this week's Championship match against Nottinghamshire, he is in good form.

There is a case for Stuart Broad being picked ahead of Jonathan Lewis on Sunday. Lewis has been selected in all three Test squads against Pakistan but is yet to make the starting XI.

The Oval is not a venue that suits Lewis' style of bowling, as his career record - four wickets at an average of 63 - testifies. It is a surface that helps taller, faster bowlers, such as the 6ft 6in Broad.

If England were to rest a bowler it would be Matthew Hoggard, who looked laboured at Headingley where he picked up two wickets. Hoggard bowled with a niggling knee injury in the third Test but he will not want to bring his run of 35 consecutive Test appearances to an end. For an England fast bowler this is remarkable, bettered only by Ian Botham, who played in 65 consecutive Tests between February 1978 and March 1984.

Hoggard's run began in March 2004 on England's tour of the West Indies, and since then he has taken 140 wickets at an average of 27.69. But the 29-year-old has not had a good series against Pakistan, taking just seven wickets at 50 a piece. With the Ashes approaching there would be some benefit in giving Broad a game, but Hoggard would not want to give a potential challenger for his place a chance to shine. There is also the small matter of £10,000 - £6,000 match fee and a share of the prize money - the sum Hoggard would expect to earn for playing in Thursday's Test.

One person who will not be featuring at The Oval is Michael Vaughan. But the England captain is optimistic about playing at some stage this winter. "I am determined to get back on a cricket pitch sooner rather than later," he said. "If that is December or January, or if not I've got to be patient. But I'm determined to make sure that does happen. I'm training for a number of hours each week to make sure that does happen."

Possible squad: A J Strauss (c), M E Trescothick, A N Cook, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, I R Bell, C M W Read, S I Mahmood, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar, A G R Loudon, S C J Broad.

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