For James Foster and Richard Dawson, a golden future surely awaits. They have been wrenched from obscurity to go on a senior tour with England, whose selectors are obviously using this winter to build a new team. Well, maybe, maybe not.
Foster and Dawson are undoubtedly blessed with huge talent, but that does not mean tomorrow's stars could not become yesterday's men with equal suddenness. Other young players have been similarly singled out, only to be returned to mundane duties in the shires.
It is four years since David Graveney became chairman of England's selectors, stressing the need for loyalty and continuity. Up to a point this has worked. Five of those who were in Graveney's first side are going on tour, and that would be eight if Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart and Darren Gough had made themselves available for the winter.
Additionally, eight of the players who are off to India and New Zealand, apart from Foster and Dawson, were given their debuts during Graveney's stewardship.
But that should not make them feel completely secure, because selectorial loyalty has not been applied so rigorously elsewhere.
In all, England have used 48 different players in 52 Test matches under the present chairman of the selection panel. Of those, half were debutants, and of that band of 24 no fewer than 18 have played five matches or fewer. True, four of the 18 have played their maiden Tests during the 2001 season – but then only two of them have actually made the tour.
The list is hardly a roll of selectorial honour. It can be safely assumed that Mike Smith, Gavin Hamilton (who both have one cap), Steve James, Aftab Habib (two each), Darren Maddy (three), Adam Hollioake, Ed Giddins (both four), Chris Adams and Ian Ward (five) will never play again. While Ryan Sidebottom (one), Ben Hollioake, Chris Schofield (two) and Chris Read (three) all have much to do to gain another nod.
Then there are those, who, like Dawson and Foster, were sent on a senior tour and and have barely been heard of again. In successive years they have been Ashley Cowan (West Indies 1997-98), Ben Hollioake (Australia 1998-99), Chris Read and Graeme Swann (South Africa, 1999-2000), and Paul Nixon and Jason Brown (Pakistan and Sri Lanka, 2000-01). Cowan, Swann, Nixon and Brown have never played in a Test, and in this country Steve Harmison, of Durham, and Richard Johnson of Somerset, have been picked for two squads without playing.
It cannot be easy being a selector with so many players to choose from in such a moderate competition, but a selector's skill surely lies in spotting talent and sticking with it. The players who have appeared most under Graveney's chairmanship were picked before he started. They are Alec Stewart (52 matches), Michael Atherton (39), Nasser Hussain (46), Andrew Caddick (39), Darren Gough (39), Graham Thorpe (32) and Mark Ramprakash (32).
Mark Butcher (32), Marcus Trescothick (16) and Michael Vaughan (11) are the most successful of Graveney's picks so far. Butcher was his first debutant, playing in his first team against Australia at Edgbaston in 1997, and his career has been resurrected. Dawson and Foster should have wonderful Test careers but it is not a racing certainty.
It was a hot afternoon in Galle last February when Tim Lamb, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, gave a briefing on how he envisaged the future of touring. Darren Gough and Alec Stewart, for two, may like to know his thoughts.
"We must not ride roughshod, we've got to get the balance right, but we have to recognise we need a more flexible policy," he said. When asked, Lamb said that it was entirely probable that players would need to take the odd tour off.
"Within a few years I hope that we have a larger pool of players rather than the relatively small nucleus we have now, particularly in the fast-bowling field. All these things [pay, time off, playing for counties] can be discussed, but I think we recognise there's going to be more touring."
And then what happens? As soon as two players decide they want to miss a tour they are told they can miss the one after it as well. Sympathy for Gough and Stewart may not be in especially abundant supply, because players should not pick and choose their matches. But it was the Board who started it.
Glenn McGrath's performance in the Fifth Test at The Oval reinforced his position at the head of the world Test bowling ratings. His points tally in the PwC table also went to 919, the best for nearly 19 years: Imran Khan reached 926 after taking 3 for 19 and 8 for 60 against India at Karachi in 1982.
McGrath's present total is the fourth highest of all time. In third place is George Lohmann, who went up to 923 after destroying South Africa at Johannesburg in 1896 (9 for 28 and 3 for 43), and second is Imran.
The all-time leader, the best bowler there has ever been, is an Englishman. Sydney Barnes took 34 wickets against Australia on the 1911-12 tour to reach 850 points; was dominant at home in 1912 with 40 wickets in six matches, moving to 915; and in December 1913 ran through South Africa, also at Johannesburg, taking 17 wickets and being awarded 929 points. Nobody has done better, but McGrath is not finished yet.Reuse content