As England concentrated on the significance of the here and now yesterday, the person in charge of deciding who plays outlined his vision of the future. Geoff Miller, the national selector, unveiled the man who may one day be England's captain and then warned that they had to be wary of picking more overseas imports such as Kevin Pietersen.
In announcing the England Lions team which will play Pakistan A next month, Miller sprang a surprise by naming the unsung Yorkshire batsman Andrew Gale as the captain. Gale was made captain of his county last month – he will be their youngest for more than 60 years – and Miller made it clear that the way is clear for him to go much further.
"He's obviously got decent qualities from Yorkshire's point of view and we have taken that into consideration," said Miller, who is in South Africa with the Test team for the fourth Test starting on Thursday. "We saw him at the Performance Centre at Loughborough where we had long discussions with him. He's good at man-management, knowledge of the game, all the things that go with captaincy."
Gale will not exactly be promoted next week. But the selectors clearly view the succession to Andrew Strauss seriously. It seems increasingly likely that Alastair Cook will lead England on their tour of Bangladesh next month, at least in the two Test matches. But in nominating Gale for what is effectively England seconds, Miller and his panel are also looking further afield away from the existing squad.
The selectors, both at Yorkshire and with England, have seen something in Gale which is not immediately apparent from his figures as a batsman. He has made steady if unspectacular progress since making his debut five years ago, batting in the middle order in the Championship and opening in one-day games.
"We're constantly looking that way," Miller said. "The conveyor belt that we talk about is not just about players, it's about captaincy as well because rarely do you get the opportunity to show your captaincy credentials in domestic cricket. Normally, a quality player gets snapped into the central contracts and so never gets the opportunity to show whether he's captaincy material or not."
Gale, 26, has yet to score 1,000 runs in a season, averaged only 32 last summer in first-class cricket, but has gradually established himself in Yorkshire's side. Born in Dewsbury, his Yorkshire background might have helped such is the litany of captains from the county who have propelled England to glory from Lord Hawke through Sir Stanley Jackson, Len Hutton, Raymond Illingworth and latterly Michael Vaughan.
"One of the difficulties for him is that he is trying to prove himself as a player as well and will that detract from the captaincy?" Miller said. "We're interested to see how he develops as both. I'm sure he's up to it. There are one or two others around but we need to see where we can go with it and help him."
The Lions team will play three 50-overs and three Twenty20 ties against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates as well as a warm-up Twenty20 match against the full England side. It is a mixture of youth and experience with places for the Hampshire middle order pair Michael Lumb and Michael Carberry, both of whom will be 30 this year. The most surprising name is perhaps that of Ian Bell, one of the heroes of the Cape Town Test, who has already played 97 one-day internationals but is now being asked to rebuild his limited-overs career. It is a measure of how much the selectors are willing him to do so that they have given him the chance.
The selectors have picked two wicketkeepers for the Lions and in calling up the South African Craig Kieswetter as soon as he has become available, they are clearly grooming him for the eventual succession. But Miller acknowledged that the recruitment of players who were born and learned their cricket elsewhere, could not continue unchecked.
"Yes we have to be careful," said Miller. "I wouldn't say he's the last but we will monitor it. Craig has fulfilled all the criteria required to be an English cricketer. He has proved his worth, that's why he's there and he has put his colours with England. When South Africa talked to him he said, 'I'm English, I want to play for England'. I've said it before that it mirrors our multi-cultural nation but we have got to the stage where we must be very careful on that and we will be."
Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, who are both in England's team, effectively learned their cricket in South Africa, as did Kieswetter, who represented the country at under-19 level before being lured to Somerset. It may be more straightforward for Miller from now on: the South African cricket drain appears to have been staunched.
The selectors are already deep in discussion about the senior squad for Bangladesh and although they have not yet revealed the details, it seems likely that Strauss and a couple of other senior players will be given the tour off. There is a heavy schedule in the next year – four summer home Tests followed by the Ashes in Australia and the World Cup with the usual plethora of one-dayers – that rest now will be important.
"It's working out what's long term," Miller said. "You have got to win these matches you're playing at the moment and actually work out what is best in the long run. You have got to look ahead. The equation is to make sure you win the present day Test matches and series and also prepare yourself for a bit further on as well. It's so intense now that maybe we will have to look at resting or recuperating but how we do that will be decided by the three people who make these decisions."
Miller is excited by the manner in which England have forged a 1-0 lead in the Test series and quietly pleased that the panel's selections have worked out.
"It would be huge if we left here having won the one-day and Test series," he said. "We came out here and the noise was that we would be fulfilling the fixtures. This is the side that was best in the world not long ago. It was as if, 'All right, you have won the Ashes, but it will be a different story when we get you on our home ground'. What I have enjoyed more than anything is the spirit and determination in the changing room and the qualities they have shown."
Miller will be there this week willing a win in the present, but always with one eye on next month and next year.
Lions squad to face Pakistan A
*England Lions squad to tour UAE from 10-26 February: AW Gale (captain, Yorkshire), IR Bell (Warwickshire), MA Carberry (Hampshire), MJ Lumb (Hampshire), JWA Taylor (Leicestershire), C Kieswetter (wkt, Somerset), SM Davies (wkt, Surrey), PD Trego (Somerset), JC Tredwell (Kent), AU Rashid (Yorkshire), SI Mahmood (Lancashire), CR Woakes (Warwickshire), ST Finn (Middlesex), SP Kirby (Gloucestershire), DJ Wainwright (Yorkshire).Reuse content