Only one thing secures a place in a team more readily than playing well. That is not playing at all and finding that the others are not so good without you.
Jimmy Anderson can happily bask in this warm glow after being absentfrom England's side for the Second Test against Sri Lanka with a minor side strain. How much missed he was as the trio of tall guys entrustedwith England's fast bowling duties regularly confused their lines, aiming for the Jubilee and finding themselves headed down the Bakerloo. It did not make for a pretty sight.
Anderson will return to the squad for the Third Test against Sri Lanka, the inaugural Test at the Rose Bowl, which begins on Thursday. He has become the central figure in the present England attack, if you exclude Graeme Swann, which is admittedly difficult given the off spinner's garrulous ubiquity.
Gradually, and unexpectedly considering his reserved nature, Anderson has emerged as a genuine leader of the bowling unit, as they like to term themselves these days. Not only does he display uncommon skill with the ball himself but offers constant, sage advice to his colleagues from the region of mid-off.
England knew they were taking a slight risk at Lord's in picking Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn, all tall bowlers, all with similarif not duplicate skills. It was deeply unfortunate that they should all choose the same match to be out of kilter and the suspicion must be that it was the Lord's slope that did it.
Although the three are accustomed to playing at the ground (and indeed Finn can call it home since he plays for Middlesex) the slope can still be disturbing if something does not click straight away in the delivery stride. All of them managed to propel deliveries frequently down the leg side, leaving poor old wicketkeeper Matt Prior to pick up (or not) the pieces by conceding 32 byes.
Anderson's control and his nuanced swing, such a crucial factor in England's Ashes victory last winter when he took 24 wickets, will be greeted with open arms should he return. Although he seems confident, he will play in a Twenty20 match for Lancashire at Worcester today as a fitness test.
He will be named in a squad of 13 by the selectors today. It will then be up to the coach Andy Flower and the captain Andrew Strauss to decide on their final XI. That means one of Broad, Tremlett or Finn will be omitted. It is likely to be Finn despite his four first-innings wickets at Lord's.
Had he taken his tally to five, about which there is always a certain resonance, he might have been harder to overlook. But when he had his chance at the tailenders he chose to continue a short-pitched attack when bowling straight and fast at the stumps might have done the trick.
There is a case for leaving out Broad whose place in any England side seems guaranteed, a point noticed by his colleagues as well as the watching public. Broad is a handsome and skilful cricketer with a mean bouncerwhose batting is a substantial feature of England's Test fortunes. But he is short of wickets.
Of seam bowlers to have taken more than 50 Test wickets for England his average of a wicket every 68 balls puts him well down the list at 40th out of 54. Whereas only George Lohmann, who was operating in a different era on different pitches, has a better strike rate than Finn's who at present is taking a wicket every 41 balls.
Taking wickets is a happy knack to have and Finn appears to have it. Of course, Broad has other qualities and while he is a distinct handful to face, the argument that he takes wickets for the chaps at the other end is valid only to a point.
The Rose Bowl has been full of runs this summer with four totals above 400, and although Hampshire lost 20 wickets for 334 in the last Championship match in late May it is difficult to believe that it will be anything other than hard work for the bowlers. England's batsmen are in form. Strauss could do with some runs quickly but six of the rest made at least 50 in one innings at Lord's.
Sri Lanka dug deep at Lord's after their woeful collapse on the fifth afternoon at Cardiff and demonstratedthat they can be a resilient as well as an entertaining side. But they are likely to be without their captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, whose blazing 193 in the Second Test ensured they secured a draw and kept the series alive. He has a hairline fracture of his right thumb and his replacement as captain is yet to be confirmed. It is likely to be Kumar Sangakkara, his immediate predecessor. But Sangakkara has batting travails and if they have been slightly alleviated by his hundred in the tour match against Essex, the fact is that he has vastly underachieved in Test matches in England. Sangakkara is the fourth ranked Test batsman in the world but his batting average, 56.13 overall, is 26.6 in eight Tests in England. He will be desperate to rectify that. The captaincy may burden him.
The Test will be the last of the summer to feature the umpire decision review system. Although it is official ICC policy, India have steadfastly refused to permit its use for their four-match series, which is pretty indicative of where the power might reallylie in world cricket.Reuse content