England's middle way still unclear

Trescothick withdrawal clarifies Oval choice but big decision on batting remains
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The Independent Online

Small pieces of the jigsaw began to fall into place for England yesterday. They were only some of those easy bits on the outside but when teams are in certain kinds of mess with the Ashes at stake every little helps.

One of the men being hailed as England's potential saviour after their miserable defeat in Leeds finally withdrew from the reckoning. The burden on the selectors, who will begin to pick their squad for the decisive fifth npower Test tomorrow, was immediately eased, for it meant that one former player did not have to be considered. The list is down to about six.

In his weekly column in the Western Daily Press, the former opening batsman, Marcus Trescothick, said: "Of course I thought hard about it. But there will be no Oval comeback for me in the final Ashes Test of this gripping series. My wife Hayley did talk about what my reaction should be if I were asked and we ended up having a good chuckle about it. But it just didn't feel right. Nothing in me made me feel I had to do it, so I came to the conclusion I didn't want it enough."

Of all the names casually floated this week of men who could walk out at The Oval next Thursday, terrify Australia and come back with the Ashes urn all but tucked under their arm, Trescothick was perhaps the most significant and the least probable. He has been approached several times about a comeback since his chronic and profound stress forced him to leave an England tour of India three years ago.

That he has been missed as a belligerent opener is not in doubt but the selectors would also have had to bear in mind that his record against Australia is no great shakes. His overall Test batting average is 43; in 15 Ashes Tests it fell to 33 and in none of them did he score any of his 14 Test hundreds.

The reverse is true, of course, for Mark Ramprakash, who is not engaged in Second Division Championship action this week for Surrey (27 in Tests overall, 42 against the Aussies). He has already expressed his desire for a comeback. The manner in which he did so is intriguing. He first offered his views to Surrey TV, and then, answering exactly the same questions, gave almost word for word the same answers to Sky TV.

Moving it was, too, and perhaps it was a convenient way of dealing with the media siren calls. However, being asked pat questions to which the answers are equally pat, if not scripted, does not speak of a player who can deal with the kitchen sink, containing words and phrases it is impossible to repeat in any other public forum that Australia would hurl at him next week.

The selectors will convene today and since they rarely have short meetings under Geoff Miller this one will be no exception. They fully intend to speak again tomorrow, reflecting on Championship form, the England Lions match against the Australians at Canterbury and even perhaps Twenty20 finals day. They also have Twenty20 and one-day squads to choose.

Robert Key, who made 90 in Kent's first innings against Northamptonshire, made only 15 yesterday, whereas Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, who made one and 15 in Warwickshire's first innings, made big runs against Nottinghamshire in the second. Given that they were First Division runs that may pull them clear of the field.

Trott, for all that he has scored four Championship hundreds this summer, would not be a popular choice given his long background in South Africa, for whose under-19 team he played, or an especially sensible one since the selectors would be asking him to make his Test debut in his adopted country's most important match for four years. The middle part of this selection jigsaw is still missing.

*The West Indies Cricket Board have terminated the contract of national team coach John Dyson ahead of next month's ICC Champions Trophy. Assistant coach David Williams will take up the reins on a temporary basis.

Ashes watch: The contenders

*Heading for the Oval

Ian Bell (Warwickshire)

After his first-innings failure at Trent Bridge, made himself difficult to drop with a solid, unbeaten 92.

Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire)

Should at least be in the squad after proving that Wednesday was merely a blip, his 121 reinforcing a seasonal first-class average of 80.46.

Graham Onions (Durham)

Completed a wicketless first innings at Old Trafford, then spent much of the day waiting to bat, but not at risk anyway.

*Waiting by the phone

Ryan Sidebottom (Notts)

Impressive on Wednesday, less so yesterday. A recall less likely now.

Monty Panesar (Northants)

Given plenty of opportunity against Kent at Northampton but still finding wickets hard to come by.

Rob Key (Kent)

Fell for 15 at Northampton. Looks an outside bet at best now.

Ian Blackwell (Durham)

Always a dangerous batsman, his left-arm spin has made him a left-field choice. Figures of 7 for 85 could not have come at a better time.

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