England’s selectors will announce tomorrow who will begin the defence of their No 1 Test status against nearest pursuers South Africa.
Thankfully for Geoff Miller and company, there are relatively few variables to consider before plumping for the 12 who the national selector will announce.
Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan’s sore elbows are furrowing some brows and feeding fevered imaginations. But both have played for their country in the past two weeks, without apparent discomfort or mishap, and England have been at pains themselves to assure the world of their well-being.
It seems equally likely that England will make one obvious change, among the batsmen, in an otherwise settled side.
Jonny Bairstow’s blooding as a Test cricketer resulted in 38 runs, from three completed innings, against the West Indies and an apparent consensus that he may, at present, have a weakness against the short ball at the highest level.
If so, England will not allow that complication to persist for a young player of such obvious talent.
But Bairstow’s initial Test travails were enough to see him back on the periphery of the 50-over team, in a succession of NatWest Series victories over the West Indies and then Australia.
His first-ball duck back in four-day cricket for Yorkshire at Southampton is an irrelevance – England coach Andy Flower has made it clear that this week’s county performances will neither clinch nor squander a place in the Test team.
It seems, nonetheless, a probability that the 22-year-old will cede his No 6 spot to Ravi Bopara.
Bairstow’s time will come again. But Bopara’s, after a highly-encouraging string of contributions in the NatWest Series, is now.
He appeared a certainty to replace Eoin Morgan at the start of this summer, only to pull up lame for Essex on the eve of the squad announcement for the first Investec Test against the West Indies at Lord’s.
Morgan, like Bopara, has had a productive month for England in 50-over cricket.
But that will surely not be enough to quell the doubts sown by his loss of Test form against Pakistan in the desert last winter.
Others struggled there, too, of course. But the Irishman was the one with the sparsest substance on his CV to that point, so had to go.
A summer which began late for Morgan, thanks to his inactive Indian Premier League campaign, means Bopara will head the queue to bat at six against the South Africans – ahead of him and Bairstow, probably in that order.
The only significant question therefore, in an England team who have re-established their table-topping credentials after their shock defeat by Pakistan with a 2-0 win over the West Indies, is the identity of the third seamer.
That deliberation, too, ought not to bring any surprise name in the squad announced tomorrow.
Bresnan and Steven Finn can both expect to be in contention to play at The Oval next week, until the morning of the match. A rain-ravaged third Test at Edgbaston cost the Yorkshireman his talismanic claim to ensuring England victory.
He had played 13 and won 13 before three washed-out days in Birmingham made a draw inevitable, and prevented even him from finishing on the winning side.
Still, England will be loath to ditch such a resourceful all-rounder who has not by chance previously been associated with wall-to-wall victories stretching back more than two years and including their historic 2010-11 Ashes triumph. The suspicion, even so, is that Finn’s outstanding form may prove irresistible.
Probable England squad: AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, RS Bopara, MJ Prior (wkt), TT Bresnan, SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson.