This is to deride neither England's efforts after an increasingly desperate winter nor the inspirational recordings they have enlisted as part of a strategy to take them once more to the sunny uplands of Test cricket. It merely recognises that Pakistan are, in almost equal measure, vastly entertaining, strong and resilient and will not easily surrender their 1-0 series lead, whatever Sir Winston has to say.
England must confront familiar and fresh conundrums in assessing the balance of their side. The endless possible combinations between batting and bowling, pace and spin would probably be one of the tougher questions in an examination paper for A-level mathematics students, if there are any left. The selectors could opt for six batsmen, a wicketkeeper who bats and four bowlers, one of them a spinner. Or they might prefer five batsmen, an all-rounder who bowls more than he bats (or the other way round), a wicketkeeper who bats and four bowlers.
Or they could decide, not for the first time, on six batsmen, one of whom keeps wicket, and five bowlers. Over a five-day contest against a side of Pakistan's enviable calibre, five bowlers might be seen as a minimum, particularly considering that the choice of only four at Headingley would not be described by its best friends as an outrageous success.
The composition is further complicated by the six batsmen who played at Headingley. Four made fluent, meaningful contributions, and ill deserve being dropped even in the cause of salvaging a series. The other two, Michael Atherton and Graham Thorpe, made only 28 between them but their names are not so much pencilled into England team lists as carved in concrete.
The main trouble with this sextet is that none bowls. Although Atherton took a wicket at Leeds while deploying his leg breaks for the first time for five years in a Test, he is not a serious option, and the rest of them, asked to turn an arm over, might worry about shoulder dislocation.
But their batting should make them all safe, which rules out the all- rounder and leads back to the familiar conundrum. Jack Russell could be omitted, Alec Stewart could keep wicket (as well as opening the batting) and an extra bowler could be brought in. Strangely, this might be more justifiable on wicketkeeping grounds than on batting grounds. Russell was out of sorts at Headingley, especially when standing back. But after the way he has clawed himself back into international cricket in the past 12 months it would be a hard-hearted panel which left him out, not least because of his inelegant sturdiness at No 7.
Nor does Stewart want the gloves, despite his proficiency when wearing them. The last time he opened the batting and kept wicket for England at the Oval was against Pakistan. He scored 31 and eight and England lost the match by 10 wickets and with it the series. That defeat, in 1992, was England's last on the ground and Atherton has indicated his thinking by pointing out that they have twice won there in the past three years with four bowlers. So four bowlers it looks likely to be in a demonstration of either bravery or foolhardiness.
There will doubtless be prolonged calls for a spinner and Ian Salisbury will probably be in the squad. But since Phil Tufnell bowled out West Indies five years ago English damage at the Oval has been inflicted by speed and swing. As to the quartet's composition, it will not contain Devon Malcolm. The recall of Darren Gough, bowling with fury and passion for Yorkshire, is far more likely. It is perhaps not before time and with Yorkshire's Championship challenge fading the selectors' chairman, Raymond Illingworth, may be keener to sanction it.
Andrew Caddick begins to look like the genuinely hostile Test bowler he always had the potential of being, Dominic Cork and Alan Mullally will be there. Chris Lewis, sadly disappointing last time out, may be out of the game if not the frame. In picking the side for this Test selectors must have weather eyes on the winter tours and, most importantly, on the Australians' visit next summer. This is not, as their mentor said, the beginning of the end but may be the end of the beginning.
Probable squad: Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Thorpe, Crawley, Knight, Russell, Cork, Gough, Caddick, Mullally, Lewis, Salisbury
Pulling a fast one: Four young pacemen who can give England the edge
Aged 21. The newly elected Young Cricketer of the Year and understandably so. Calm, sensible and mature. His sponsored E-reg Quantum sports car is probably the flashiest thing about him apart from his bowling. Made immediate mark in Yorkshire side. Played one match in 1993, picked regularly following season. "Impressively hostile", said Wisden. Won more friends with recovery from stress fracture of back which cost most of last year. Solid temperament, smooth action, good speed.
Aged 21. A memorable 10- wicket haul in an innings at Derby in July 1994 at the age of 19 assured Johnson of a place in history. His progress continued and he was picked for England's winter tour to South Africa. A back injury forced his withdrawal and he is only just playing on a regular basis again. Already taking wickets, he is attracting attention once more. At Lord's last week he was in a long photo session. Has taken his wickets so far at around 25. Naggingly accurate, assured, capable.
Aged 22. After a successful England A tour to India in 1994-95 his full Test debut looked imminent. Then he was overtaken by his Lancashire county colleague Peter Martin and regressed slightly. His confidence perhaps suffered and his 33 wickets at 36 suggested hard work was still needed. But he has responded well, keeping the county's South African overseas player, Steve Elworthy, out of the side. Plenty of improvement is still required for that elusive Test place but plenty is possible.
Aged 21. Raw speed is his main weapon. Thrust into a losing county side early, that pace was also allied to naivety and inaccuracy. But this summer he has improved on his career-best figures match by match. Playing in such a side cannot have helped his advance but equally it may turn out to be the making of him. Riverside ground should be to his liking. Action has a natural aggression which makes batsmen hurry. If he can get it in the right spot he can trouble anybody. Perhaps still too expensive.Reuse content