England enter the one-day series against Australia at Headingley on Friday without their first-choice opening batsmen and bowlers. It would be a stretch to suggest that the public is being short-changed when rest and rotation is the declared policy but let nobody try to kid anyone that this contest, or any of the four that will follow it in the next 10 days, has the authenticity that matches between England and Australia should command as of right.
It may be a way of giving experience to others after a gruelling Ashes series, it may provide a decent spectacle but it also has all the bearings of being fitted in because it has to be fitted in. There is the real sense that the two countries have already met each other enough this summer, with another round of matches across all formats due to start in the autumn.
This is a feeling that inevitably tends to strike when limited-overs series follow Test matches. In this country, like no other, the longer form of the game is what matters and everything else is mere frippery. That perception multiplies after the Ashes, which are so significant a part of the sporting landscape that everything that follows automatically pales.
It is why England must beware of ennui in this series and also why the selectors may ultimately prove to have been wise in omitting Alastair Cook, the captain; Ian Bell, the other opening batsman; Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, the new-ball bowlers; and Graeme Swann, the No 1 spinner. Until the match against Ireland on Tuesday, Cook and Bell had opened in 27 consecutive ODIs.
Their places in Dublin were taken by Michael Carberry and Luke Wright, whose joint tenure will probably stop at one match. Kevin Pietersen will resume the role he tried briefly at the 2011 World Cup and then again in the UAE early the following year and where he averages 58.85. He averages 116 at No 5.
That was before his brief retirement from one-day cricket which necessitated the recall of Bell, who has been eminently successful. Accomplished though Pietersen is, he may find opening in England against the two new balls now used in 50-over cricket is an excessively pesky proposition. It may make sense for Joe Root to move up and allow Pietersen freedom further down the order.
Eoin Morgan, who will captain England for the first time in a one-dayer in this country, said opening with Pietersen was “certainly an option” which made it pretty clear that it was also not an option. The opening bowling does not throw up quite such a conundrum with Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin the probable pairing ahead of either Jamie Overton or Chris Jordan.
But Overton and Jordan are both exciting additions in their different ways. Both have wheels and at 24 Jordan has been reinvigorated by his move from Surrey to Sussex. The 19-year-old speed merchant, Overton, could be promoted sooner than anybody at present supposes.
Morgan appears not to have given up hope of a place on the Ashes tour, doubtless recognising England’s continuing difficulties with the No 6 position. He said he saw every innings for the rest of this season as an opportunity to show what he could do. But a more probable recipient of the selectors’ largesse is the exciting Durham all-rounder, Ben Stokes, who can make an indelible impression in the next few days.
Australia will be led by Michael Clarke as usual but also have some unfamiliar names in their ranks. It is a series that is step along the way to the 2015 World Cup, a chance for outsiders to press their claim. If it supplies some big-hitting entertainment instead of a diet of gamesmanship it may be more welcome than it seems.