The future of their captain may be undecided, but that has not prevented the England selectors from planning ahead for their winter by recalling Mark Ramprakash for this week's sixth Test at The Oval. The Middlesex captain has been in fine form all season and, barring one of his previous calamities at the crease, a winter in the West Indies with England, if perhaps not as its captain, is surely there for the taking.
Their were recalls, too, for Mark Butcher and Peter Martin, as England seek to end another disappointing Ashes summer, with victory. But whereas Butcher will return to open the innings instead of Alec Stewart, who now drops to No 3, Martin, picked in place of the injured Darren Gough, is essentially there to provide cover for Dean Headley, who has a bruised heel.
For Ramprakash supporters, the return will be long overdue. It is almost two years since he played his last innings for England at the Wanderers ground in Johannesburg, when he was bowled for a second-ball duck. That was his 19th Test and, at the time, many felt it would probably be the last; the final sighting of a talented player unable to overcome the pressure - much of it self-imposed - of the big occasion.
As in the past, the sheer weight of his run-scoring, allied to his burgeoning maturity as Mike Gatting's successor at Middlesex, has forced the selectors to rethink their position. With John Crawley dropped after his failures in the first innings - he has scored just 26 runs in five matches - Ramprakash will once again get a chance to find his feet.
Referring to Ramprakash's selection yesterday, David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, spoke of the need to rectify England's lamentable batting performances. "A major problem for us this summer is that we have been conceding deficits in the first innings. John Crawley has had some good knocks this summer, but Ramps has been in fine form. He has taken up the Middlesex captaincy since he last played Test cricket and the messages I've received from dressing-rooms up and down the country is that he's one of our best players and a deserving choice."
With Ramprakash certain to bat at No 6, Adam Hollioake will drop to No 7, forcing his younger brother Ben to contemplate this Test match from the sidelines. With Atherton's future as captain uncertain, the England selectors will want to give Hollioake Snr, one of the prime candidates, along with Nasser Hussain and Ramprakash, every opportunity to establish himself at Test level.
Another outsider, should the captaincy become available, would be Stewart, though the roles of batting, keeping wicket and captaincy would surely be too onerous. He has not been keeping well, and the selectors apparently thought long and hard about bringing Jack Russell back into the fold. However, they have gone too far down that particular road for a U-turn to be useful now, and Russell's inclusion would have disrupted the batting- heavy make-up of the side.
Having demolished the West Indies there in 1991, The Oval is something of a favourite stamping ground for Tufnell, who must play in front of Robert Croft.
It has not been a good week for Croft. Fined pounds 1,000 for his scuffle with Essex's Mark Ilott during last Tuesday's NatWest Trophy semi-final, the Welshman will miss England's practice session next Tuesday in order to attend a disciplinary hearing held by the England and Wales Board [ECB] that evening in Bristol. Unless the pitch demands his inclusion alongside Tufnell, he will then head for Abergavenny and not SE11.
The hearing, chaired by David Gabbitass - as vice-chairman of Glamorgan Gerard Elias's involvement was thought inappropriate - is apparently not taking place because the ECB feels the counties have been too lenient on the guilty pair. With the matter given such a high profile by television, its intervention is simply a matter of the watchdog revealing its presence.
However, with England's cricket currently in need of diversionary tactics, it would not be surprising if they added some bite to their bark and further emptied the handbags of those concerned.
England Test squad
Sixth Test v Australia, The Oval, 21-25 Aug
M A Atherton (Lancs, capt) Age 29, Tests 72
M A Butcher (Surrey) 24, 4
A R Caddick (Somerset) 28, 15
R D B Croft (Glamorgan) 27, 10
D W Headley (Kent) 27, 3
B C Hollioake (Surrey) 19, 1
A J Hollioake (Surrey) 25, 1
N Hussain (Essex) 29, 22
D E Malcolm (Derbyshire) 34, 39
P J Martin (Lancashire) 28, 7
M R Ramprakash (Middlesex) 27, 19
A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt) 34, 68
G P Thorpe (Surrey) 28, 42
P C R Tufnell (Middlesex) 31, 27Reuse content