Four vie for chance to replace Pietersen
James Taylor's guest appearance for Sussex against the Australians presents him with a chance to push his claims to make his Test return at Old Trafford if Kevin Pietersen is ruled out of the match through injury.
England are optimistic that Pietersen will recover from his calf strain in time, but if not, they face a tricky choice about who should replace him. It goes to show that even England do not quite have a plan for everything.
James Taylor (Nottinghamshire)
Age 23, Tests 2, Runs 48 at 16.00
James Taylor has joined Nick Compton in guesting for a county against the Australians at England's request, but he can't assume that if he makes runs it will automatically lead to a place at Old Trafford. Compton repelled the Australian attack in successive games at Taunton and Worcester but could not salvage his England spot.
It would be appropriate if Taylor was recalled for Pietersen because it is the figure of Pietersen which hovers around his England career. He shared a 147-run stand with Pietersen, as very much the junior partner (Taylor made 34), against South Africa at Headingley last summer, and acquitted himself well enough, but his chaste congratulation of Pietersen after he reached his hundred was that of a young batsman still seeking to make his way and accentuated his diminutive size which some contend leaves England wary.
When the Pietersen furore was at its height, there were also suggestions that Pietersen had been none-too-complementary about his ability - suggestions that Taylor routinely dismisses. He has had a good season in the County Championship, with 824 runs at 58.85 and his coach, Mick Newell, has suggested that he is ready for a recall. If England select on county form and fitness, Taylor is the only candidate.
Ravi Bopara (Essex)
Age 28, Tests 13, Runs 575 at 31.94
There were enough signs in Bopara's approach in the Champions Trophy which invited the question whether he might yet have his best Test days ahead of him. There was a conviction about him that had been lost at international level and he came out of the tournament with his reputation enhanced. For him to suffer a side strain playing county cricket, with a potential eight-week lay-off, represents cruel timing. England pressed Essex to leave him out of their recent Championship match so his injury did not worsen, but surely they would not allow him to enter a Test carrying an injury. Their concern is much more likely to surround his ability to bowl in the NatWest Series against Australia.
Nick Compton (Somerset)
Age 30, Tests 9, Runs 479 at 31.93
Nick Compton's removal from the top of England's order at the start of the Investec Ashes series was signalled so emphatically by Geoff Miller, the national selector, that it is hard to imagine his return in a reshuffled line-up. Miller made it sound as if England had taken a view, leaving Compton shocked and emotional. It would be feasible for Compton to slot back in at No. 6, with an eye to the second new ball, and until his loss of form against New Zealand in May, his Test career had been a decent one. He played well against the Australians, too, in tour matches at Taunton and Worcester, the latter at England's request. But England are 2-0 up and they will prefer to maintain the balance of batting styles. Compton for Pietersen, however much you shuffle, is a more defensive set-up. A Championship average of 42.54 this season does not particularly push his case either.
Eoin Morgan (Middlesex)
Age 26, Tests 16, Runs 700 at 30.43
It was observed in these columns when Morgan was scoring healthily in IPL that if anybody would expect to pop straight from one-day cricket into the Ashes without bothering with much Championship cricket along the way it would be Morgan. All it would take would be an outstanding Champions Trophy, an injury in England's top six, and all the niceties about his preference for IPL ahead of preparing for Test cricket could be forgotten. He is a centrally-contracted player after all, and relishes the high-pressure occasion. But Morgan broke a finger in the Champions Trophy semi-final against South Africa and required an operation as soon as the tournament was finished. His Middlesex appearances have been limited to a first-ball duck in a YB40 tie against Yorkshire at Radlett and, on the Middlesex message boards, they have been speculating that this will be as good as it gets. For all that, he was still seen in the nets at Lord's during the second Test with England's batting coach Graham Gooch.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo