The Decision of England's selectors to delay naming their squad for the fifth Test at the Oval until tomorrow has only added to the sense of confusion which surrounds Michael Vaughan's side before this crucial match.
The chairman of selectors, David Graveney, along with the other three members of his committee, Duncan Fletcher, Geoff Miller and Rod Marsh, do have time to think matters through, but their actions do not suggest that an agreement on policy has been made or that clear and decisive minds are at work. Before a Test match England must win to level the series such lack of conviction is unlikely to get South Africa quaking in their boots.
With the announcement of winter tour parties to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka imminent, the side for the last Test of the summer is a source of great interest as an indication of the direction in which the selectors are moving. At the conclusion of a summer which has seen a new captain take control, a couple of senior players announce their retirement and several poor performances, intrigue has only heightened.
Injuries to James Kirtley and Martin Bicknell have been cited as the reason for postponing the announcement of the Oval squad, but their problems are something of which the selectors have been aware for almost a week. Contingency plans should have been in place by now and the gaps filled with suitable replacements.
This is how Sven Goran Eriksson, the England football manager, works, having a good idea of his squad before the weekend's Premiership fixtures and then waiting until Sunday afternoon to see if any of his players have picked up injuries. Then, when all the information is collected, he announces his squad.
Kirtley said after a scan had revealed the extent of his injury: "I am obviously disappointed. Shin splints is something I have had before, but this time it is more specific to a certain area. It is an overuse injury, after bowling 430 overs for Sussex and near enough 100 in the last two Test matches. The last time I had something similar it was a case of resting for a week, but I just knew I would not be 100 per cent fit for the Oval."
If the selectors want replacements, today's Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy Final is the only match in which form can be monitored. For Worcestershire's Kabir Ali, who made his Test debut at Headingley, and Gareth Batty, a young off-spinner who has been selected for England squads without making the final XI, a good performance could be followed by further good news on Sunday.
The probable selection of Graham Thorpe could be another reason for the delay in announcing the squad. There is a strong case for recalling the Surrey left-hander as a direct replacement for the injured Nasser Hussain, but there is little point in playing him if the selectors do not intend taking him on the winter tours. This may not be a road members of the selection committee who want to see youth given a chance want to go down.
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