England will shortly resume their bewildered search for a seam bowling unit to take them to the summit of the world game. On the one hand, they seem to have an embarrassment of riches, on the other they can appear so impoverished that Tom Cobleigh will be given a go any day.
The time is rapidly arriving when England no longer have to keep their preferred options a closely guarded secret. Suddenly, every Englishman who can bowl at presentable pace with reasonable direction is fit again and raring to go (though for how long?). Stephen Harmison, Andrew Caddick and Simon Jones, to name but three who are not in the side at present, are likely to declare themselves fit.
Whether England are looking to the past or the future, none of them will be easy to overlook. Jones has worked diligently to get back after the horrendous knee injury he suffered in the Brisbane Test last year. Harmison came home from Bangladesh with a back injury but reports of his split with the management have been greatly exaggerated. Caddick, 35 last month, has announced his intention to restart his Test career after foot and back injuries forced him to miss the whole of last summer. As soon as the series is done in Sri Lanka, England must select the squad for the Caribbean, with one eye, as ever, on the Ashes, six series and 18 months down the line, when Australia arrive in England again.
The party will be announced on 6 January and will be based on winter international form so far, the progress or otherwise of the National Academy students and the state of the casualty list. Planning for the immediate future has been delayed by an accident suffered by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney. He was due to fly to Sri Lanka for preliminary talks with the coach, Duncan Fletcher, and the captain, Michael Vaughan, but has torn tendons in both knees and will have to spend much of the next six weeks on his back.
"It's a bit inconvenient in every sense," said Graveney. "I was going out largely as a middle man to share information from here and get it from there. We have a difficult selection ahead of us and have to seek to get the balance right. That partly means people we know are fit. We got criticised last year for selecting people who weren't fully fit and didn't play a full part in Australia. We've learned a lesson there but you can't be too rigid. On those grounds we might not have picked Michael Vaughan for Australia and look what he did."
There is no doubt that Graveney and his panel need the opportunity to have a settled attack, but they must also seize the chance to help themselves. Since Caddick and Darren Gough became one of England's most reliable opening bowling partnerships, appearing as a pair in 25 consecutive Tests, the selectors have been flailing around for a replacement.
In 29 matches England have had 15 different new-ball pairings. In their last eight Tests, England have had seven different opening pairs involving eight different bowlers. Only Matthew Hoggard and Richard Johnson have managed two consecutive matches and they were dropped for the Second Test against Sri Lanka in Kandy. It is not only injury that has hampered the selectors at every turn. Harmison's speed and bounce, allied to his improved accuracy, would undoubtedly be beneficial against any opposition, not least in the Caribbean. Rumours that he has not been assiduous in ensuring his fitness were dismissed by Graveney.
"I had a quiet word with Steve but it was certainly not a bollocking," he said. "I just wanted to tell him that fitness demands under Michael Vaughan were likely to be even greater than they were under Nasser Hussain and that he would have to work very hard. He has done so, and I want him in the squad."
The veteran Caddick said: "I've started a gruelling regime. I'll be bowling again shortly and I'll be fit. Anybody who knows me knows I mean this. I want to play for another year at least." Caddick will give England what the young guns - including James Anderson - do not, control at one end. If it seems a tall order to pick all of Caddick, Harmison and Jones for now, do not be surprised if that is where the selectors are looking.Reuse content