The England batting order may be open for membership again soon. It has been closed to all new candidates for nearly two years, a gentleman's club where excellence has conveyed the impression of exclusivity and only retirement can create a vacancy.
In case anybody needed reminding that there are other considerations, the captain Andrew Strauss provided it yesterday. The cream of England has been exposed in this series, being dismissed for 192, 160 and 72.
Another Test tour is coming up next month, likely to be almost as tricky, to Sri Lanka. The groundsmen are doubtless already preparing slow-turning pitches and Strauss was asked yesterday if places for that trip could be won or lost in the match starting today. "You can't keep underperforming for ever," he said. "So all of us have a responsibility to improve our games. I've been a strong believer that no one is guaranteed their place in the side. The environment only works properly if there is pressure on you for your place so we all have to work very hard for the next five days."
Of course, England have made it easy for selectors by scoring runs and winning matches. Four of the top six have formed the nucleus of the order more or less for six years. Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have appeared together in the same Test team 51 times.
But things went badly awry in the last fortnight and Strauss is candid and diplomatic enough not to avoid the issue. "We had very good reasons to think we could win out here and the fact our bowlers have done well is part of the reason we felt we could do that," he said. "To a certain extent cricket is a form game, and some of our guys got out of form at an inconvenient juncture with each other."
One man who will not be going to Sri Lanka is the fast bowler Chris Tremlett, who left this tour early. The ECB said yesterday that he would be off until April with a back injury that had already forced him out for five months.
An unwelcome sideshow during this match is the auction for the Indian Premier League tomorrow: 15 England-qualified players, including the former Pakistan Test player Azhar Mahmood, are hoping to be enlisted. Five of them are in the present squad: Jimmy Anderson (reserve price £300,000), Ian Bell (£200,000), Ravi Bopara (£100,000), Matt Prior (£200,000) and Graeme Swann (£400,000).
"We all know where we stand" said Strauss. "I certainly won't stand in the way of players who want to play in that. We're all comfortable with that and we'll just wait and see who is picked." And would he seek to play in the IPL himself? "Er, no," he said, saying it all.Reuse content