England Lions are, so to speak, a source of great pride to the selectors. When they, or indeed the team management, talk of the Lions they puff out their chests and wink knowingly.
Or it always seems like that. The Lions have been a key link in the chain of progress to Test mastery, a crucial way to show the cut of a potential international player's jib. If you do not have what it takes in the Lions you can forget going further.
Which is to say that if you do well, you can be assumed to have the right stuff and eventually expect that good-news call from the chairman of selectors. James Taylor can hardly do more and yesterday, if the system is to be worth the planning that goes into it, he should have played his way to the very verge of the Test team.
He scored 118 for the Lions side he is leading against the West Indies. It was an innings of diligence and care, begun amid a clatter of three wickets for just five runs. The rebuilding work he performed was necessary and accomplished in every way, taking the Lions to a first-innings lead of 194.
The squad for the First Test, which starts at Lord's on Thursday, has already been selected, though the announcement, in accordance with renewed tradition, will not be made until tomorrow morning. This indicates that the last batting place has gone to Ravi Bopara, who was unfortunate to miss out in the winter.
But in the afternoon there came news that Bopara was off the field at Chelmsford with a leg injury suffered while playing for Essex against Kent. He went for a scan and the results are expected today. Early medical reports suggest that Bopara will be fit but early medical reports concerning England cricketers have been wrong before.
England may therefore need another untried batsman for the Test. Not before time since there is a growing feeling that this order, found so wanting on the winter tours, needs an infusion, almost a transfusion, of new blood.
Now that selection is no longer done on the back of a fag packet it is difficult to be sure what these matches count for. Eoin Morgan's timely hundred in the corresponding match last year earned him Test selection but if it is an audition there is no immediate promise of a starring role.
Taylor stated a solid, if not unanswerable, case yesterday. Last summer for the Lions he made 76, 17, 76 and 98 in their first-class matches. If the process of ensuring players are ready for the big time is to mean anything that has to be considered.
The feeling is, however, that Jonny Bairstow of Yorkshire is the next man in line. Bairstow has already scored two hundreds for Yorkshire in Division Two of the Championship and he helped Taylor yesterday with the repair work.
They put on 107 for the sixth wicket after the innings faltered. Nick Compton was the first wicket of the day to fall but the real trouble came an hour later. Michael Carberry, having left and played what he should, edged to slip, Ian Bell was beaten playing forward and bowled through the gate, Samit Patel chipped tamely back to the bowler.
Bell might be entitled to suggest that his concentration had been disturbed when a man walked in front of the sightscreen, forcing the batsman to pull away. The miscreant was Andy Flower, the England coach, who was suitably embarrassed and immediately sat down.
Nominally, Patel is the man in possession of the last batting spot having played two Tests for England in Sri Lanka, but though the team had already been selected this was not the way to provoke the selectors into changing their minds.
On narrow balance, Bairstow looked the more assured of the two at first. But Taylor and Bairstow both left with aplomb which is always a pleasure to see. Taylor has a stylistic quirk of going across his stumps to lever the ball to leg, effective, planned but dangerous in high-level company. He faced 179 balls and hit 13 fours, requiring the help of the lower order to secure his hundred as West Indies failed to finish the job.
The last wicket put on 64. Taylor may or may not have a sleepless couple of nights. England are picking a squad of 13. The cover is likely to be for bowlers not batsmen.
AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, RS Bopara, MJ Prior, TT Bresnan, SCJ Broad, GP Swann, JM Anderson, ST Finn, G Onio
NORTHAMPTON (Second day of four): West Indies are trailing England Lions by 166 runs with seven second-innings wickets in hand
England Lions won toss
WEST INDIES — First Innings 147 (Bravo 51)
ENGLAND LIONS — First Innings 40-1
First Innings Contd
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
M Carberry c Chanderpaul b Rampaul 32 1 4 93 148
N R D Compton b Roach 21 0 3 46 70
I R Bell b Rampaul 29 1 3 54 69
J W A Taylor c Ramdin b F H Edwards 118 0 13 179 268
*S R Patel c & b Shillingford 4 0 1 7 8
†J Bairstow c Rampaul b Shillingford 50 0 6 93 126
M T Coles b Roach 0 0 0 6 7
S C Meaker b Rampaul 12 0 1 25 30
J A Brooks c Ramdin b Roach 18 0 3 28 33
J W Dernbach not out 28 1 2 21 52
Extras (b4 lb3 w2 nb17) 26
Total (90 overs) 341
Fall: 1-6, 2-55, 3-92, 4-93, 5-98, 6-205, 7-211, 8-244, 9-277.
Bowling: F H Edwards 21-5-79-2, R Rampaul 24-5-79-3, K A J Roach 21-2-90-3, S Shillingford 23-5-75-2, M N Samuels 1-0-11-0.
WEST INDIES — Second Innings
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
A Barath lbw b Brooks 14 0 2 30 34
K O A Powell not out 8 0 0 44 62
*K A Edwards lbw b Brooks 4 0 0 9 12
F H Edwards b Coles 0 0 0 2 5
D M Bravo not out 0 0 0 5 8
Extras (lb2) 2
Total(for 3, 15 overs) 28
Fall: 1-21, 2-25, 3-26.
To bat: S Chanderpaul, M N Samuels, †D Ramdin, K A J Roach, S Shillingford, R Rampaul.
Bowling: S C Meaker 3-1-11-0, J A Brooks 7-2-12-2, M T Coles 5-2-3-1.
Umpires: N L Bainton and S A Garratt.