The England selectors last night decided on who out of Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flintoff will captain the side in Australia, and yesterday's three-wicket one-day victory over Pakistan will have done the former's chances of leading the team out in Brisbane on 23 November no harm at all.
Having made their decision, it is hard to believe the selectors would not have informed the chosen man, so that he could have some input into the selection of the squad that will try to defend the Ashes which will be announced at 3.30pm at the Oval tomorrow.
If not, it will be the first occasion when the captain of the side has had no say in its make-up.
Strauss last night insisted he had not been told, preferring instead to talk about the fine work of Michael Yardy and Sajid Mahmood, who guided England to victory yesterday to level the one-day series at 2-2.
Strauss said: "We made a mountain out of a molehill. We did not chase as well as we should have done but our best work was done with the ball earlier in the day. Michael and Sajid [then] showed character to see us over the line."
The victory allowed England to finish what has been a disappointing summer of one-day cricket on a high. After losing 5-0 to Sri Lanka in mid-season, and then the first two matches against Pakistan, another whitewash was feared. But Strauss left Edgbaston last night feeling optimistic.
"It has been a tough summer in one-day cricket but, hopefully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "I'm pretty happy with the way we have played as the season has gone on and things have improved. If we continue to improve over the winter, we will be a competitive side at the World Cup."
Chasing Pakistan's meagre total of 154 for 9 should have been a doddle and England, on 102 for 3, were coasting home before Kevin Pietersen heaved across the line of a Shahid Afridi leg-break and was bowled.
The error revitalised an apathetic Pakistan side who took four wickets in three overs to leave England ailing on 118 for 7. With Mahmood and Yardy, two inexperienced cricketers at the crease, and 37 runs to defend, Pakistan may have believed the game and the series were theirs.
But Yardy's cool head and Mahmood's enterprise guided England home with 19 overs to spare. The partnership was not without alarm as Mahmood chanced his arm, a tactic that kept the capacity crowd captivated. The Pakistan supporters turned Edgbaston into a home venue for the visitors and the moment got the better of Mahmood on a couple of occasions, but it was Yardy who had the pleasure of scoring the winning runs, when he punched a Mohammad Asif delivery down the ground for four.
The shot, and the calm way in which he dealt with a pressured situation, should be enough to earn him selection for England's Champions Trophy squad which will be announced tomorrow. Mahmood's aspirations will spread further. The fast bowler's selection for the Ashes was pretty assured before yesterday's excellent all-round display, and his bowling did his one-day ambitions no harm at all.
Mahmood is a young bowler and his inconsistency is to be expected, but he continues to show glimpses of what a fine cricketer he could become. The 24-year-old had leaked almost eight runs an over in the 41 one-day overs he had previously bowled this summer, but by taking 2 for 24 in 10 accurate overs he showed he can compete in both forms of the game.
Strauss gave England the start they were looking for in pursuit of Pakistan's total, scoring 32 of his 35 runs in boundaries, but he, like other England batsmen, must turn starts into match-winning performances.
Pakistan seem to have run out of steam. Off-field pressures, caused by the controversy surrounding the fourth Test at the Oval, must have had a debilitating effect on Inzamam-ul-Haq's side and in these last two matches England, despite the inexperienced nature of their side, have been the far better team.
Pakistan were reasonably well placed on 43 for 0 after losing an important toss on a seaming pitch, but their innings fell apart after Imran Farhat was needlessly run out. Farhat's sloppy piece of cricket was exploited by an alert Chris Read and the wicket began a collapse that saw the visitors lose seven major batsmen for 59 runs.
Paul Collingwood, playing in his 100th one-dayer, backed up the excellent work of Mahmood, Jon Lewis and Stuart Broad by taking the wickets of Inzamam and Abdul Razzaq in a miserly eight-over spell. Razzaq's wicket gave Collingwood his 50th one-day wicket.
Younis Khan was the only Pakistan batsman now standing between England and a comfortable victory. Yet he failed to get any support from Pakistan's lower order who struggled to cope with the accurate spin of Jamie Dalrymple and Yardy. It was Dalrymple who had Younis caught at short third man attempting a reverse sweep.
Scoreboard from Edgbaston
England won toss
Mohammad Hafeez b Mahmood 18
72 min, 43 balls, 3 fours
Imran Farhat run out (Read TV replay) 15
58 min, 40 balls
Shahid Afridi b Lewis 2
7 min, 7 balls
Younis Khan c Joyce b Dalrymple 47
117 min, 80 balls, 4 fours
Mohammad Yousuf c Strauss b Mahmood 11
25 min, 17 balls, 1 six
*Inzamam-ul-Haq lbw b Collingwood 2
13 min, 6 balls
Abdul Razzaq b Collingwood 5
23 min, 25 balls
ÝKamran Akmal c Read b Yardy 4
9 min, 7 balls
Naved-ul-Hasan b Dalrymple 8
23 min, 25 balls
Iftikhar Anjum not out 14
38 min, 38 balls, 1 four
Mohammad Asif not out 4
24 min, 13 balls
Extras (lb10 w13 nb1) 24
Total (for 9, 209 min, 50 overs) 154
Fall: 1-43 (Imran Farhat) 2-47 (Shahid Afridi) 3-51 (Mohammad Hafeez) 4-68 (Mohammad Yousuf) 5-72 (Inzamam-ul-Haq) 6-91 (Abdul Razzaq) 7-102 (Kamran Akmal) 8-124 (Naved-ul-Hasan) 9-135 (Younis Khan).
Bowling: Broad 9-0-37-0 (w7) (6-0-26-0, 2-0-5-0, 1-0-6-0); Lewis 10-1-25-1 (w1) (8-1-16-1, 2-0-9-0); Mahmood 10-2-24-2 (nb1 w1) (8-2-18-2, 2-0-6-0); Collingwood 8-0-23-2 (w2) (one spell); Yardy 7-0-22-1 (5-0-18-1, 2-0-4-0); Dalrymple 6-0-13-2 (w2) (one spell).
Progress: Power Play 1: overs 1-10 27-0. PP2: overs: 11-15 51-3. PP3: overs 16-20 67-3. 50: 71 min, 87 balls. 100: 142 min, 187 balls. 150: 207 min, 299 balls.
*A J Strauss c Kamran Akmal b Iftikhar Anjum 35
41 min, 41 balls, 8 fours
E C Joyce b Mohammad Asif 8
12 min, 6 balls, 2 fours
I R Bell c Imran Farhat b Mohammad Asif 2
26 min, 10 balls
K P Pietersen b Shahid Afridi 34
49 min, 33 balls, 6 fours
P D Collingwood lbw b Abdul Razzaq 22
55 min, 33 balls, 3 fours
J W M Dalrymple lbw b Shahid Afridi 0
3 min, 3 balls
M H Yardy not out 12
48 min, 31 balls
ÝC M W Read c Naved-ul-Hasan b Abdul Razzaq 4
7 min, 6 balls, 1 four
S I Mahmood not out 22
36 min, 25 balls, 4 fours
Extras (b6 lb2 w6 nb2) 16
Total (for 7, 142 min, 31 overs) 155
Fall: 1-23 (Joyce) 2-49 (Bell) 3-49 (Strauss) 4-102 (Pietersen) 5-102 (Dalrymple) 6-106 (Collingwood) 7-118 (Read).
Did not bat: J Lewis, S C J Broad.
Bowling: Mohammad Asif 10-1-57-2 (nb2 w1) (8-1-51-2, 2-0-6-0); Naved-ul-Hasan 2-0-22-0 (w1) (1-0-9-0, 1-0-13-0); Iftikhar Anjum 8-1-31-1 (w1) (7-1-28-1, 1-0-3-0); Abdul Razzaq 6-0-23-2 (w1); Shahid Afridi 5-1-14-2 (w2) (one spell each).
Progress: Power Play 1: overs 1-10 51-3. PP2: overs 11-15 72-3. PP3: overs 16-20 102-5. 50: 44 min, 60 balls. 100: 87 min, 115 balls. 150: 138 min, 183 balls.
England win by three wickets
Man of the match: S I Mahmood.
Man of the series: Younis Khan.
Umpires: D J Harper and I J Gould.
TV replay umpire: N J Llong.
Match referee: M J Procter.Reuse content