Teams face selection dilemmas
The ICC's recent all-time fans' eleven has been roundly criticised and ridiculed because of the players who weren't included, but there is unlikely to be as much fall out when England and India name the teams that will take the field for the 100th Test between the two teams and the 2000th in the game's history. That isn't to say the final choices won't be debated, but the sides only have one spot with any question marks.
For both captains and coaches the final piece of their jigsaw revolves around who fills the third pace-bowling position. In England's case it's a shoot-out between Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan, while for India it will be either Praveen Kumar or the volatile S Sreesanth with MS Dhoni having already ruled out Munaf Patel. Whomever gets the nod will support two strong new-ball pairings so they need to be adaptable in their roles.
The decision for Dhoni and Andrew Strauss is whether to stick to what they know or trying something different. Broad, despite being dropped for the final one-day international against Sri Lanka, remains the man in possession in the Test team and is favoured to see off the challenge from Bresnan. Dhoni, meanwhile, has seen Kumar perform well in the three Tests against West Indies where he took 12 wickets at 21.16 in his first Test series and for all his lack of pace - often around 78 mph - he has wonderful control of swing. He's the type of bowler that could easily frustrate England's stroke-makers who like extra pace on the ball.
In Sreesanth's favour is the x-factor he can provide. However, he didn't do himself any favours in the warm-up game against Somerset (although he wasn't the only one) as his 28 overs went for 141 runs and brought just the wicket of Arul Suppiah after he had made 156. On the flip side he has shown wicket-taking skills on flat pitches in India and caused Jacques Kallis trouble in South Africa.
There are plenty of similarities between Broad and Sreesanth. Both bowlers have inflated averages (Broad 36.25, Sreesanth 35.16) and have a handful of match-winning spells. For Broad at The Oval and Durban read Sreesanth at Johannesburg and Kanpur. They are also combustible characters who don't need much to be pushed towards boiling point. They may keep the match referee on his toes.
Neither captain gave anything away. "I'm pretty clear [on the team]," Strauss said. "It's a tough decision; all 12 players have very strong merits to play. That's a good position to be in but always makes it a difficult decision over who to leave out." Dhoni was even briefer when pushed on who would make the cut, saying "That's up to us."
Strauss, though, did expand on the qualities that Broad and Bresnan can bring to the team. He also continued the theme of recent days in following Andy Flower, the England coach, in clarifying Broad's role after he'd been described as an 'enforcer' by David Saker, the bowling coach, during the Sri Lanka series.
"Very simply, Stuart's role in the side is not fundamentally different to anyone else, it's to bang out a length consistently and work in conjunction with the other bowlers to take wickets," he said. "One aspect to his game that gives him an edge is that he has a very good bouncer and can make life difficult for batsmen. But that doesn't mean he's the enforcer all the time, it just means there are spells where he might go short. The majority of the time he's no different to the other bowlers."
One issue that isn't up for debate, though, is that if Broad keeps his place he has to start rewarding the faith shown in him with decent hauls. He took eight wickets in three matches against Sri Lanka and those match-turning spells at The Oval and Durban, which are always cited as examples of what he can achieve, are becoming increasingly distance memories. Meanwhile, there are a host of pacemen breathing down his neck with the fit-again Bresnan topping that list ahead of Steven Finn, who couldn't even make this squad.
Bresnan's situation is an interesting one. He played such a vital role in securing the Ashes with incisive spells at Melbourne and Sydney that a place seemed there for the foreseeable future. Then the curse of many pace bowlers - injury - struck in Australia, and again at the start of the season, meaning Broad regained his place and Finn earned another chance.
"It's a great position for English cricket to be in, having two guys who can do the job," Bresnan said. "Not just two, but a very strong crop of seamers where, if there are injuries, people can come in and do the job. I just need that one chance to show everyone what I've got again, get back in that side and, hopefully, cement down a place."
England's attack had an ideal balance at the end of the Ashes series: James Anderson's swing, Chris Tremlett's bounce and Bresnan's nagging accuracy and the latter's role hasn't been forgotten. "He's answered every question that has been asked of him during his career," Strauss said. "He did fantastically in Australia and did very well in the World Cup as well. He's improving all the time as his confidence grows. He adds something to the squad and would certainly add something to the side if he played."
The other aspect to consider is that whoever makes the playing elevens on Thursday morning is far from guaranteed their position for the series. Four Tests in six weeks is a tough workload and somebody will fall by the wayside. Then it will be about the bench-strength of both teams. In that respect England have the advantage and that could yet prove the difference.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo