England's selectors are expected to rest three senior players for November's controversial tour of Zimbabwe. But, contrary to speculation, Michael Vaughan will captain the side in the five one-day internationals that his side are scheduled to play in Harare and Bulawayo between 19 November and 5 December.
Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Ashley Giles would appear to be the likeliest names missing from a 14-man party which will be announced at 2.30pm today. They will travel to South Africa with six other members of England's Test squad for the five-Test series against the Proteas beginning on 6 December. The one-day squad will warm up for their Zimbabwe series in Namibia.
This resolution will be seen as something of a victory for Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, who had asked David Morgan, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, if it was possible to rest four or five senior players.
Initially, Morgan said the ECB wanted England to take their strongest possible side to Zimbabwe but following an emergency meeting yesterday between the ECB Management Board and senior executives, a compromise was reached.
Explaining the ECB's decision, Morgan said: "I put team morale and the fitness, both physical and mental, of the players high on my agenda. Duncan was keen to rest five cricketers from the tour, but that would have meant the tour party being captained by someone who has not done the job for England previously."
Neither Trescothick nor Giles, who both opposed England's visit to Zimbabwe for a qualifying match in the 2003 World Cup, had previously suggested they would boycott the tour if selected. But the omission of Flintoff probably saved the all-rounder from informing the selectors of his desire to avoid visiting the country on moral grounds.
Flintoff can now look forward to spending an extra three weeks with his three-week-old daughter, and resting his weary body in Lancashire.
Fletcher said he wanted his senior players to rest for "cricketing reasons", but they will be grateful to him for removing them from a highly contentious, stressful seven-week build-up to the tour.
Whether or England's players need the extra rest is, however, another matter. Seven weeks is sufficient time for the body to recover from an arduous seven months of cricket and these players would probably benefit from the gentle warm-up that Zimbabwe's threadbare side will give them.
Once in South Africa, England have only 10 days to prepare for the first Test in Port Elizabeth. During this time they will play a one-day and a three-day match, an itinerary which leaves them open to criticism should they perform poorly in the first Test.
Picking a squad for Zimbabwe would appear quite simple compared to the tribulations which have preceded it, but the selectors still have several important decisions to make.
The first surrounds Darren Gough. The Essex fast bowler is quick to tell those who want to listen how much everyone in the England side wants him around, but his performances in the ICC Champions' Trophy suggest his time is almost up.
Gough's bowling in the group stage was adequate but he was found out against Australia and the West Indies in the semi-final and final, conceding 106 runs in 17 overs, which is too much for an experienced bowler with a limited shelf life.
There appears little point in taking a 34-year-old with a gammy knee on a trip on which England will be playing cricket against a team who are no stronger than a decent club side. The selectors overlooked Gough last winter in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and leaving him at home could bring an end to his illustrious career.
The absence of Stephen Harmison - who did decline to tour on moral grounds - Flintoff and Gough, until now England's three main one-day fast bowlers, would allow the selectors to have a first look at Jon Lewis and spend more time developing the skills of Simon Jones, Sajid Mahmood and Rikki Clarke. Lewis, after an excellent season with Gloucestershire in which he took 57 wickets at an average of 25.26, is on standby for South Africa.
The withdrawal of Trescothick and the exclusion of Anthony McGrath would also give England the chance to look at a couple of exciting young batsmen. Warwickshire's Ian Bell impressed everyone with a score of 70 on his Test debut, and was unfortunate to be overlooked for South Africa.
Kevin Pietersen, Nottinghamshire's 24-year-old South African-born batsman, is now qualified to play for England and he could also benefit from Fletcher's persuasiveness.
Zimbabwe: where the players stand
Those who said no
S J Harmison.
A Flintoff, M E Trescothick, A F Giles.
Those to be omitted
D Gough, A McGrath.
Probable England squad
M P Vaughan (capt), V S Solanki, A J Strauss, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, K P Pietersen, R Clarke, G O Jones, G J Batty, A G Wharf, J M Anderson, S P Jones, S I Mahmood, J Lewis.
- More about:
- Ashley Giles
- Duncan Fletcher
- Freddie Flintoff
- Marcus Trescothick
- Michael Vaughan