England's selection head-ache for the third one-day international here today was probably aggravated by the management committee pinching themselves excessively. Fanciful as it may sound, the team are in the unprecedented position of being level at 1-1 in the series, having opted to do without two of their best players.
It may seem harsh to refer to Graham Thorpe and Andrew Caddick as having been dropped, but that is precisely what has happened. The coach, Duncan Fletcher, and the captain, Nasser Hussain, now have to decide whether to recall them to a winning team.
India had selection problems of their own, although, contrastingly, they may have seen it as an easy way out when their controversial, out-of-form captain, Sourav Ganguly, tweaked a hamstring in training. He was immediately sent for a scan, and rated doubtful for today's match and perhaps the rest of the series. Thorpe pulled out of England's team for the first game last Saturday with an upset stomach, was then omitted for the second and saw the men he would be most likely to replace score half-centuries. Caddick has been left out for both matches for an all-Yorkshire opening bowling partnership of Darren Gough and Matthew Hoggard, who have performed efficiently on batting pitches.
A month ago, perhaps even a week ago, it would have been unthinkable for England to take the field without a fit Thorpe and Caddick. They have been two of the principal architects of the Test team's revival and if Thorpe is England's most successful, experienced and versatile one-day batsman, Caddick has the best economy rate among the bowlers.
"It's the first time I've been in this position with England where we've got two quality players sitting on the bench and we've got to consider them for selection," Fletcher said. "Nasser and I have got a very difficult job to weigh up. The series is delicately poised and this game is very important." The selectors' thoughts on the matter were bound to be confused. Sooner or later, the pair are bound to return because their ability is obvious, so why not sooner? However, they also have to remain loyal to those who are doing well in their places and give them experience of playing at this level and in front of these crowds before the World Cup next year.
It says something more about the Hussain-Fletcher partnership – as if anything else needed to be said about their dramatic effect on the team – that they seem to have scouted the new blood well. True, that is what selectors are for but that has not been invariably the case in England.
In Paul Collingwood, who made the top score of 71 in the second one-dayer on Tuesday, and Jeremy Snape, who is threatening to become the slowest bowler in world cricket and is so far one of the most unflappable, they have chosen wisely.
They are fit, hard-working and have an innate understanding of the team ethic. It is probably also the first time Fletcher has been in a position to say that he is in charge of a young England side.
"When we went to Zimbabwe [last autumn] we were probably the most inexperienced side in one-day internationals and if you totalled up all our caps we probably still are apart from Bangladesh," he said. "We're trying to get 40 games under the belt of each individual so at least we've got a minimum of 440 or 450 caps by the time we go into the World Cup, and we're going to struggle to do that."
Part of the calculation is balancing World Cup aspirations, which still should not be high after one win against India, with winning this series, while also maintaining the vigour and purposefulness in what is clearly a unified squad. Fletcher is a publicly dispassionate man, but he seems to see something in this side. As senior players, who have achieved much, Thorpe and Caddick will be crucial to it.
If Ganguly fails to make it for India, his likely replacement is Anil Kumble. Ganguly's injury might just mean the end of his tenure as captain. Rarely popular, fleetingly successful, he was appointed only for the first three matches of this series.
ENGLAND (from): N Hussain (Essex, capt), N V Knight (Warwickshire), M E Trescothick (Somerset), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), A Flintoff (Lancashire), P D Collingwood (Durham), A F Giles (Warwickshire), J S Foster (Essex, wkt), D Gough (Yorkshire), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), A R Caddick (Somerset), O A Shah (Middlesex), B C Hollioake (Surrey), J P Snape (Gloucestershire).
INDIA (from): S Ganguly (capt), S Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, V Sehwag, D Mongia, H Badani, A Ratra (wkt), S Bangar, J Srinath, A Kumble, A Agarkar, Z Khan, H Singh, S Singh.
Umpires: V K Chopra and D Sharma.
Third umpire: B A Jamula.
Match referee: D Lindsay (SA).Reuse content