James Anderson’s anticipated return for the third and final npower Test against Sri Lanka will shape England’s game plan to try to close out series victory.
The fast bowler’s name, barring any last-minute accidents or relapse in the minor side injury which ruled him out of Lord’s last week, will be among a likely 13 announced on Sunday morning for the Rose Bowl.
The sensible contingency appears to be retention of his near like-for-like replacement Jade Dernbach, still uncapped after failing to make the cut at HQ.
Should Anderson then suffer any setback in what is being billed as a ‘fitness test’ FriendsLife t20 outing for Lancashire at Worcestershire on Sunday afternoon, or in the run-up to the Test in the following days, England should still have all bases covered.
Most of the qualms voiced during the drawn second Test, which finished on Tuesday, centred unsurprisingly on the collective inconsistency of the three fast bowlers who did play at Lord’s.
Trumpeted beforehand as the tallest trio in Test history, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett were all guilty - to varying degrees - of failing to keep the testing lines required to make the most of their natural bounce.
Sri Lanka consequently piled up 479 all out to very nearly claim first-innings parity, and therefore leave even an improved bowling performance second time round short of time to force a result.
Anderson was also absent because of his injury when Broad, Tremlett and off-spinner Graeme Swann bowled out Sri Lanka for 82 in under 25 overs to go 1-0 up in the series in a rain-shortened first Test at Cardiff.
But as England struggled against Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan and others last weekend, no one tried to pretend the Lancastrian was not missed.
Initially fine weather meant swing was not the biggest weapon, on a pitch which favoured batsmen throughout. But Captain Andrew Strauss, and coaches Andy Flower and David Saker all acknowledged at different stages during and after the match that Anderson’s presence would have been handy.
He is therefore a certainty to return, if fit, at the Rose Bowl - with Dernbach a likely understudy who may again be available to Surrey for Twenty20 duty by the end of the week as long as Plan A works out.
The pace bowlers who gradually and necessarily improved at Lord’s all probably did enough to stay in the reckoning.
Under England’s prescribed policy of a four-man attack, one would have to give way to accommodate Anderson’s return - and on balance, although perhaps the most effective on his home patch last week, Finn is the most obvious.
The selectors have established a template of succession and accession for new caps, those returning from injury and the like - usually accompanied by a mantra of the need for strong evidence that one player has ‘overtaken’ another before he is picked.
Finn, therefore, is likely to still be lagging just behind Tremlett and Broad - and significantly in arrears of Anderson.
There ought not to be too much to delay the selection process for the rest of the team.
The top order currently picks itself, especially after Kevin Pietersen’s return to form in the second innings at Lord’s, and Eoin Morgan - marginally preferred to Ravi Bopara to bat at number six in the last squad - did enough to vindicate that decision.
AJ Strauss (captain), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, CT Tremlett, JM Anderson, ST Finn, JW Dernbach