Trescothick and Thorpe limit chances of successors

Michael Vaughan's side are not the only members of Team England to benefit from Monday's memorable victory over South Africa at The Oval. Their nine-wicket win will have ensured that the selectors, who announce the parties to tour Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before Christmas and the squad for the National Academy today, will meet in an optimistic rather than downbeat mood.

There is never a bad time to win a Test match but there are occasions when an unexpected victory can prevent selectors from making the changes they thought were necessary a week before. England's surprise win against Australia in Sydney at the start of this year was one such, as was that over South Africa in the fifth Test.

The three players who benefited most from last weekend's remarkable turnaround, and may have changed the thoughts of the selectors, were Marcus Trescothick, Graham Thorpe and Steve Harmison.

Before his feats on a perfect Oval pitch, Trescothick's spot at the top of the order was being questioned. The opener's place in the side was never in doubt but many felt he would benefit from slipping down the order. Although he works incredibly hard at his game, he is very much a form player. He seldom scores scrappy 30s and 40s - in the manner of Michael Atherton - and still has a weakness outside off-stump but 288 runs for once out is a pretty strong case for staying where you are.

If Trescothick had failed and Thorpe himself had not scored a majestic century, the latter's selection for the winter would have been in doubt because there must be at least one place in every touring party for a young batsman.

The pair would have been fully aware of the situation and handled the pressure superbly during their 268-run partnership. It was as if both Trescothick and Thorpe knew that by helping themselves, they were helping each other as well as England. Well before the end of the game, the selectors would have torn up and burnt the piece of paper with their doubts on it and tried to pretend the conversation never took place.

The remainder of England's strongest top five will be made up of Vaughan, Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain. After a summer recovering from a dislocated shoulder, Paul Collingwood looks set to join them, and I would pick Andrew Strauss as a third opening batsman.

The Middlesex left-hander is an ambitious, committed cricketer and would give the selectors an option if their views on Trescothick should change. He will probably lose out to a third spinner but his efforts should be rewarded with a place in England's one-day party, which will also be announced today.

Collingwood would have played ahead of Anthony McGrath at the start of the summer but for his injury. He may be unproven at Test level and his selection is based on encouraging performances in one-day cricket during the winter, but the nuggety all-rounder has many admirers in England's dressing-room. It is not just his batting that the selectors rate. His attitude and personality are first-class, and he is a good team man.

McGrath and Ed Smith have both shown they are capable cricketers, but neither made the significant score they needed to convince the selectors.

Replacing Alec Stewart would be a challenge for any side, and that is why England will pick both the best glove-man and the strongest batsman in their 16-man squad. Chris Read should get first crack at filling the void after his good all-round work during the one-day series but he needs to continue scoring runs.

In an era when players are expected to be multifaceted, much more is required of a wicket-keeper. The days of the specialist have gone. The success of Stewart, Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher have meant that they must be all-rounders. And this is why Geraint Jones' name has been pushed to the front. Born in Papua New Guinea and reared in Queensland, Australia, the Kent player is eligible through his Welsh parents. As a noted player of spin and with 975 first-class runs this season at an average of 51.31, the 27-year-old is the leading wicketkeeper-batsman in the country.

England will be tempted to take three spinners so that they have cover in case of injury or illness, but I would only take two. Spin may well dominate bowling attacks in Asia but it is England's quicker bowlers who are the likely match-winners. Gary Keedy, of Lancashire, has staked a strong claim for inclusion but I expect Glamorgan's Robert Croft to join Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty.

Before hostile, well directed spells in the second innings at The Oval, Harmison was struggling to make the final cut. The paceman had failed to make any impact in the series. It was not just his ability that was questioned but his desire, too. His challenge is to reproduce his Oval display more regularly.

England can afford bowlers like Harmison and James Anderson to be occasionally inconsistent as long as they have a bowler they can rely on. Martin Bicknell filled that role admirably at The Oval but he is not likely to thrive in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. James Ormond, Richard Johnson and James Kirtley will be considered but Matthew Hoggard is the bowler around whom Vaughan should build his attack. After spending most of the summer recovering from a knee injury, the time is right for the Yorkshireman to fill this role.

POSSIBLE ENGLAND TOUR SQUAD: M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, M A Butcher, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, P D Collingwood, A J Strauss, A Flintoff, C M W Read (wkt), G O Jones (wkt), A F Giles, G J Batty, J M Anderson, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, R J Kirtley.

SUN OR SNOW THE OUTSIDERS' RACE FOR ENGLAND WINTER TOUR TICKETS

ON THE PLANE

MATTHEW HOGGARD
Career-best figures of 7 for 49 against Somerset proved that the Yorkshire fast bowler (left) has returned to full fitness after knee trouble. England need this big-hearted, hard-working seamer to become the consistent bowler that Michael Vaughan builds his attack around.

STEVE HARMISON
Before the Oval Test it was doubtful that Harmison would be selected for the winter tours. However, two spells of sustained hostility from the Durham paceman turned the game England's way and showed just what he is capable of. But he still needs to perform on a more regular basis.

GRAHAM THORPE
The Surrey veteran described the Oval Test as a life-changing week. By scoring a wonderful hundred he showed his class but the most important part of his game is his mind. If his private life remains stable, it is hard to imagine an England side in the near future which will not contain the left-hander.

STAYING AT HOME

ED SMITH
Took a magnificent catch to end South Africa's second innings at The Oval but his batting has not been convincing. Smith (left) is capable of scoring big hundreds but he is a poor starter. This, and a tendency to play at balls he should leave alone, will be exposed in Test cricket.

MARTIN BICKNELL
To see a wily old fox out-thinking batsman with subtle changes of swing and seam was a joy. Conditions in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will not be as accommodating, and Bicknell's recall may be short-lived but it was a deserved reward for years of outstanding bowling.

RICHARD JOHNSON
After taking 6 for 33 on his Test debut, the seamer seemed the answer to England's prayers before injury wrecked his summer. Johnson is strong, hits the wicket hard and gets good players out. But his body does not allow him to play often enough. He has a better chance of touring the West Indies in March.

Comments