Six into five must go after Trescothick's return to form

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Marcus Trescothick might have wished, privately at least, that it had been he raising his bat to proclaim ownership of the 12th hundred scored by an England batsman this summer but his part in the most productive partnership he has shared with century-maker Andrew Strauss since his winter leave of absence has at least raised the promise of an end to his lean streak.

Even so, it was hardly a demonstration of well-being ended by an unplayable ballin yesterday's third Test here. Dropped by Kamran Akmal, Pakistan's wicketkeeper of the Teflon gloves, on six and then seven, he rode his luck before bottom-edging Umar Gul to second slip.

In between his own century in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's and yesterday's 58, the senior player in the current side had batted eight times for a modest 149 runs. Only once in his England career, during the Ashes tour of 2002-03, has Trescothick gone to the wicket more often without scoring at least a fifty.

Yet suggestions that his place might be at risk after 75 Tests averaging 44 can be discounted, which does nothing to help the incumbent selectors as the toughest decision they will have faced looms a step nearer, namely who among the 11 players currently deemed the best available might be excluded when England meet Australia in the first Ashes Test in Sydney on 12 November.

By then, if his recovery goes according to plan, Andrew Flintoff will be ready to resume, which means that, unless Duncan Fletcher and company are prepared to risk starting with only three bowling specialists, one of the current top six will have to be left out.

If Trescothick remains fireproof, this comes down to one of five and yet each of this quintet has made out a solid case. Kevin Pietersen averages 61.11 in the six Tests so far; Alastair Cook averages 50.55 after two centuries while Strauss' second of the two series kept his average above 40.

And no one has advertised his claims more emphatically than Ian Bell, the player on the point of being discarded until Flintoff's ankle suffered a relapse last month. Three hundreds in consecutive Tests, the first Englishman to achieve that since Graham Gooch in the early 1990s, surely cements his position at No 6.

Paul Collingwood may not be as consistent in delivering runs as some of his colleagues but his 186 in the first Test of the current series was high-class.

To dispense with a bowler would be an easy way out, although given that there are bound to be doubts over Flintoff's fitness, to ask him to take on the workload of third seam bowler of three would be a gamble.

The focus, therefore, returns to the batsmen. Whoever is to be unlucky would not be the first to feel hard done by - Graeme Hick will bear testimony to that, while Graeme Fowler might recall that the return of Gooch, post-rebel tour ban, in the summer of 1985 ended his career only two matches after a double hundred.

Yet there is no Hick, or Mark Ramprakash, to divide opinion among the current group. If anyone is vulnerable, perhaps it is Collingwood, his Lord's tour de force notwithstanding. For all his versatility in one-day cricket, after taking 64 overs to claim his first Test wicket he is no all-rounder at this level. Take away that 186, moreover, and his batting average falls to 27. Cue a century at the Oval.

* Sri Lanka were closing in on victory in the second Test against South Africa in Colombo yesterday. After Muttiah Muralitharan took 7 for 97 in South Africa's 311, Mahela Jayawardene, unbeaten on 77, led the hosts to 262 for 5 at the close, 90 runs short of their target.

Shot of the day

* CHRIS READ

Entered the Test knowing his batting would be scrutinised, but his two innings here suggest he has improved. During his 55 yesterday he struck Danish Kaneria to the Football Stand for six, a brave and well-executed stroke.

Ball of the day

* KEVIN PIETERSEN

A wonderful player of spin yet he failed to pick a fine googly from Danish Kaneria. Pietersen tried to work the ball to leg but it spun between bat and pad and hit his off-stump. Kaneria's celebrations showed how much it meant.

Moment of the day

* MONTY PANESAR

His batting has received criticism but he played one of the finest shots yesterday. The cover drive off Mohammad Sami was perfectly executed and raced to the boundary. Panesar even held his striking pose for the cameras.

TV times

* 10:30 am, Sky Sports 1

Weather

* Light clouds and sunny spells, little wind. Max temp: 23C.

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