When at last it came, the announcement yesterday was as predictable as it was prosaic. A week of outrageous demands, wild suggestions and insistent requests to England's selectors ended with the 28-year-old Warwickshire batsman Jonathan Trott being picked to make his Test debut in the match which will decide the Ashes.
Although the choice represents a huge and unprecedented gamble in such a climactic contest it lacked the spirit of romance. There was no place for – and probably not much consideration of – Mark Ramprakash, by common consent still the most accomplished batsman in England at the age of 39.
Nor was there a recall for the regular captain of England Lions, Robert Key, whose last Test was four years ago and who has some previous for being able to get up Australian pipes. Trott had been picked in the squad for the fourth Test at Headingley, which was to result in the disastrous defeat that has provoked change and his continued flourishing county form ensured there was to be no change of mind.
He will replace Ravi Bopara in the middle order for the fifth npower Test, which begins at The Oval on Thursday. But in another gamble, bordering on recklessness, the selectors decided that Ian Bell should bat at three, the position in which he performed with lack of distinction late last summer and in the early part of the winter until his wretched form led to his dropping.
Geoff Miller, the National Selector, said: "The final Test match is an absolutely vital game for the team with so much at stake and we have had to make some difficult selection decisions in choosing our squad for The Brit Oval.
"Ravi Bopara has been going through a tough time with the bat in this series and we have decided to leave him out of the squad. He will be extremely disappointed but remains very much part of our plans for the future and I am sure that he has the talent and temperament to regain his place in the side.
"Ravi's omission means Jonathan Trott will make his Test debut. Having been part of the squad at Headingley, he was the next batsman in line in our view and this rewards him for the excellent form he has shown in county cricket both this summer and with England Lions over the winter."
The selectors named a squad of 14 players and, after the catastrophic innings and 80-run defeat at Leeds which allowed Australia to level the series at 1-1, must wish they could field the lot. Instead, they have given themselves as many options as possible – two spinners is a remote possibility, as is a left-arm swing bowler, or two hit-the-deck men and three swing bowlers.
Ryan Sidebottom, whom the team management would like to play but only if there is the remotest chance of swing, and Monty Panesar, are both included. Panesar has taken 10 wickets in nine Championship matches for Northamptonshire at 71 runs apiece this season, so bowling out Australia on the fifth day should be a breeze.
Eight bowlers must be cut by three, however, and they will probably be Sidebottom, Panesar and Graham Onions, despite the fact that he has taken his wickets at a better strike rate than all England's other bowlers in the series.
Miller, with his usual tendency to give away as a little as possible, did not declare where Trott would bat. It could be four or five, with Paul Collingwood moving up one place in the order. The debutant can expect to be encouraged all the way to the middle by Australia and all the way back again.
The selectors met at Trent Bridge on Friday and their meeting lasted five hours, some of it devoted to one-day squad selections.
In line with their avowed policy of alighting on a player and sticking to him, Ramprakash, always a fanciful fancy, and Key, who can consider himself unlucky, were jettisoned to the selectorial waste bin. Not so Trott. Other players have made their debuts in the final Ashes Test of the summer at The Oval, but not with the trophy still to play for. Paul Parker and John Stephenson, who both did so, were never seen again in an England Test team.
Trott was born and educated in South Africa where he learned his cricket and played in World Cups for both their under-15 and under-19 teams. He decided to make his name and presumably fortune in England in 2002 when he was 21 and arrived in the country on a British passport courtesy of his parents.
Whatever his antecedents, he has been given both a golden opportunity and a daunting challenge. Trott has been invited to come and save the Ashes for his adopted country. For this, of course, there is a precedent. Kevin Pietersen made 158 at The Oval four years ago to bring the Ashes back after 16 years.
Six England batsmen in their first Test have made a century against Australia. The last was Graham Thorpe who scored 114 in the second innings at Trent Bridge in 1993. Only one player has achieved the feat at The Oval – and that in the first Test match played in England in 1880 – and what auspicious company Trott would join were he to equal WG Grace. (Mind you, in the same match, Fred Grace, WG's youngest brother, made a duck and two weeks later died of congestion of the lungs after catching a cold).
Miller confirmed that the injuries to Andrew Flintoff (knee) and James Anderson (hamstring) were expected to clear up well enough for them to play. The state of the team and the silly season possibilities it entertained have removed some of the attention from Flintoff, which has been rather a relief. Trott will be the target of some of the focus but it is Flintoff's last Test match so expect the circus to hit town tomorrow and stay for a week.
England's 14: Squad for The Oval
*AJ Strauss (captain), JM Anderson, IR Bell, SCJ Broad, PD Collingwood, AN Cook, A Flintoff, SJ Harmison, G Onions, MS Panesar, MJ Prior (wkt), RJ Sidebottom, GP Swann, IJL Trott.Reuse content