In recalling Graham Thorpe for the fifth Test at the Oval England's selectors have increased the chances - albeit undeservingly - of Michael Vaughan's side levelling their five-match series against South Africa. In a summer in which the stock of England's cricket has fallen alarmingly it is understandable, if not acceptable, that the selectors have erred on the side of caution but such a choice is sure to have ramifications further down the line.
Problems could start when the same selectors attempt to finalise their squad for England's winter tours to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, even as this series-deciding Test is being played.
Few doubt the quality of Thorpe and the runs he potentially brings to a side. Many feel the Surrey left-hander, as one of the only world-class players this country has produced in the last decade, should have been drafted back into the England side before now. Thorpe's career, however, has reached the stage where his selection cannot solely be based on the volume of runs he may accumulate. All through the well documented problems in his private life, which have kept him out of the England side for over a year, the 34-year-old has been private and brooding. Indeed, since scoring a hundred on his Test debut in 1993, Thorpe has remained his own man, who prepares for matches in the manner that suits him. He has never been a troublesome player but has always been reluctant to conform to the little things - such as dress codes and attending official functions - that make a team a team.
It is because of such issues that his selection for the winter tours is far from straightforward. In Vaughan England have a young, inexperienced captain who is attempting - some might say struggling - to force his personality on the side. Achieving this in a dressing-room whose inhabitants are young and enthusiastic is difficult enough. To have the extra stress of worrying about how your experienced players will react to certain rules you wish to install would only add to Vaughan's woe.
Nasser Hussain has never been as introverted as Thorpe but before he became captain he was far from easy to manage. Thorpe and Hussain are soul-mates and it is ironic that the former captain's broken toe has given his mate the chance to relaunch his career. If I was the new England captain, I would not want both in my touring squad this winter. Hussain must tour and Thorpe, being a class player, is sure to make his selection a major decision through scoring runs this week. By looking for a short-term fix, the selectors have delayed the chance of achieving their long-term goal.
"I am thrilled to be getting another opportunity," Thorpe said after hearing of his selection. "I am going to enjoy it. I don't think I have got anything to lose by playing in this game and that will be my attitude towards it. It is going to be tough, but all Test Matches I have played in for England have been tough, so it is not as though I am going into something I haven't done before.
"Whether it is one game, 10, 20 or 30 games, I will be doing my best and we will have to see how it pans out from there. The winter is out of my hands. The selectors will decide what sort of team they want to take away - for me it's important to concentrate on this Test. The selectors know my position. I am in the best frame of mind I have been in for the past few years."
The lack of fast bowlers who are fit or good enough to play Test cricket has ensured that Thorpe has not been the only problem for the selectors. James Kirtley and Andrew Caddick are injured and, despite being fit enough to play for their counties, Richard Johnson, James Ormond, Matthew Hoggard and Glen Chapple are deemed to be too much of a risk.
Indeed, the fast-bowling resources have been decimated to such an extent that the selectors gave Martin Bicknell an unexpected chance to prove he has recovered from a strained hamstring by playing for Surrey in their National League fixture against Yorkshire yesterday. Ed Smith of Kent has the chance to show he has the right credentials on a good pitch while Worcestershire's Gareth Batty and Kabir Ali could also further their claims for winter tour places.
Alec Stewart has been given the farewell he craved, but sentimentality and desperation are not the foundations on which to build a successful era.
ENGLAND SQUAD (v South Africa, fifth Test, The Oval, 4 September): M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt) Age 28 Tests 34, M E Trescothick (Somerset) 27 37, M A Butcher (Surrey) 31 55, G P Thorpe (Surrey), 34 77, A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt) 40 132, E T Smith (Kent) 26 2, A Flintoff (Lancashire) 25 25, A F Giles (Warwickshire) 30 24, S J Harmison (Durham) 24 10, J M Anderson (Lancashire) 21 6, M P Bicknell (Surrey) 34 3, Kabir Ali (Worcestershire) 22 1, G J Batty (Worcestershire) 24 0.
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