The time may be coming when the selectors must select. This is not a task to which the present quartet of just men and true, entrusted with picking the England team, have always been partial but the fact that the Ashes are at stake may leave them no option.
To avoid it (and for other reasons too, of course), Geoff Miller and his team must long for Ravi Bopara to make some decent runs when he next arrives at the crease. If he fails for the sixth consecutive time in the Ashes series their resolve will be tested as rarely before. Do not suppose it will be easy. Batsmen are not beating down the selection-room door.
It is the fate of all selection panels to be told where they are going wrong and to be told who they should be picking that they are not picking. In the past decade or so, coinciding with the start of David Graveney's tenure as chairman of selectors, England have been cautious in inflicting change.
Having alighted on their men, they have been content to let them get on with it and it is impossible to imagine the sort of scenario which took place only 20 years ago in the Ashes series when England used 29 players in six matches. Graveney and Duncan Fletcher, the coach with whom he worked for most of his time in office and did not always see eye to eye, instigated a culture of loyalty to players.
This turned out to be hugely successful and the England team repaid it by winning several Test series, culminating with the recapture of the Ashes in 2005. Under Miller, who assumed the top job in 2007 after the Schofield Review and became known for reasons which have never been clear as the National Selector, the policy of continuity has continued.
It has been less successful but the patience shown has been exemplary. After scoring hundreds in three successive Test innings, it was always possible that Bopara would experience a leaner time, though it is deeply unfortunate that it has coincided with this landmark rubber.
The loss of Kevin Pietersen for the rest of the summer has reduced the options available. When they rightly recalled Ian Bell in Pietersen's place, Miller made a point of saying: "Although we haven't named any extra batting cover in the squad we have several options should the need arise to call in another batsman." Naturally this led to rampant speculation. Who would get the nod if somebody broke a finger in the nets?
It did not happen but if Bopara fails again – and he does not at present look like succeeding – they may have to plump for one of those several options. The probability is that they would look to a member of the Performance Squad which they named earlier in the summer – otherwise what would be the point of having it?
However, the only spare batsmen among the 27 names are Robert Key, who has just rediscovered his form, Samit Patel, who is still probably persona non grata for failing to meet fitness targets, and Michael Vaughan, who has retired. On that basis, Key, one of the few who has already played Test cricket, might get a summons in an emergency.
But that was not what Miller meant. He travels thousands upon thousands of miles each summer to watch cricketers and he will have a file lodged in his mind. That will be supplemented by information from the other selectors. James Whitaker drives fewer miles but still sees lots of players. Ashley Giles, the director of cricket at Warwickshire, and Andy Flower, the England coach, are obviously restricted in who they can see and when.
The list of the leading 20 Championship run-scorers for 2009 contains five men who were born and learned their cricket in South Africa, one Australian and seven men who are 30 or above including Mark Ramprakash, who is 40 soon, and the country's leading scorer, Marcus Trescothick, who no longer plays international cricket.
Miller's options probably realistically include Michael Carberry of Hampshire, Jonathan Trott of Warwickshire, Stephen Moore of Worcestershire and, from Kent, Key and Joe Denly. This assumes the selectors have taken a view on Owais Shah of Middlesex and would not be sufficiently impressed with the form of Ed Joyce, now of Sussex, although they once had their eye on him.
What is remarkable is that nobody is telling the selectors that they should pick this chap or that chap, and that is a reflection on the current quality of English batting. Ultimately, they will probably hedge their bets by sticking with Bopara and moving him out of the firing line at No 3.Reuse content