West Indies v England, 5th Test, Trinidad March 5, 2009

Tough calls for desperate England


Amjad Khan has impressed in the nets, but it it will be harsh on Ravi Bopara if he is axed © Getty Images
 

The ECB's head-hunter led search for candidates to be the team director closes on Friday. The same day the final Test in Trinidad begins, the result of which will decide whether the new man in charge of the England team will take over a team that has just handed back the Wisden Trophy, or has saved faced with a series-levelling victory.

If it is to be the latter England will have to win the first meaningful match since first leaving home shores in October. It has been a winter of discontent, where they have lost a captain and a coach and struggled to find a winning formula in any format of the game. If they achieve a victory here it won't be a quick fix, but would a least provide a fillip ahead of the one-day series and the home season.

"We are very confident we can do well," Andrew Strauss said. "The cricket we have played in the last two matches shows we can beat West Indies. We need to go out and do it this week, there is a bit of pressure on us to perform but we have taken a lot of confidence over what has happened in the last few weeks. A terrible session in Jamaica has put us in this position and we have one more game to get us out of it."

Strauss, Andy Flower, Ottis Gibson and James Whitaker, the touring selector, arrived at the Queen's Park Oval ahead of the rest of the squad on Thursday and spent a significant amount of time looking at the pitch. England will be praying it offers more than the featherbed in Barbados because it has become plainly clear that their attack needs some help to take 20 wickets.

"There looks as thought there will be a little bit of help in the surface but how much remains to be seen," Strauss said. "It certainly doesn't look as flat as the last couple we have played on, but I think bowlers are still going to have to work quite hard."

It is very much a guessing game over the formula England will use to try and level the series. Strauss didn't give much away, but a five-man attack is shaping as a very realistic option. Matt Prior's return from paternity leave means he could bat at No. 6 with Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann to follow. Then it would be a case of three from five.

"There is definitely more of a case for five bowlers than there has been previously," Strauss said. "That is definitely one option we are considering. The exact balance of that bowling attack is important, and also whether we have got enough batting capability to get the runs we need to win the game. We have a fair idea which way we want to go but won't decide for certain until the morning."

It's impossible to think that Ryan Sidebottom can be given another game and Flower's recent comments about Steve Harmison suggest he has a lot of ground to make up. England's bowlers always 'look good in the nets' but Harmison will have had to have looked a world-beater to win back his place otherwise all the talk will just sound like hot air. That leaves three - James Anderson, Amjad Khan and Monty Panesar.

Anderson has deserved better returns in this series, but the last two would be selected on a wing and prayer. Amjad has impressed in training, but what a time to win a first Test cap, while Panesar hasn't had much chance to prove he has rediscovered the art of spin bowling. Needs must, however, and they are the only options out here.

Strauss, perhaps giving a small insight into plans, said he had been impressed by Amjad. "He has got quite a deceptive action and seems able to reverse swing it pretty well. Certainly in the two-day game in Barbados recently he got it through nicely. But at the same time he is inexperienced and no-one can be really sure how he will react to Test cricket."

Conceivably the six batsmen balance could be retained, but if one goes it's a choice between Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara and for both it would be a harsh call. Shah has been told he will have a run at No. 3 to prove himself and Bopara is coming off a maiden Test century. The argument of consistency would seem to favour Shah, an eye on the long-term future would be on Bopara's side. But England need to treat this as a one-off Test to win, victories have been too few and far between of late for them to get too cute about decision making.

"We can't afford to lose or draw this game. The only thing we can focus on is winning and clearly that's an important motivating factor for us," Strauss said. "Everything we do this week has to be with that idea in our mind. A draw isn't good enough. A 1-0 defeat or a 2-0 defeat is still a defeat so that's not a massive issue for us, it's all about winning the match."

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo