The England Test team is unusually unsettled at the minute. This has led to any number of different players putting their hands up, knocking on doors, coming to parties, and generally making some sort of case for selection.
It's an exciting time for those of us at home who like to play armchair selector, but if you're putting yourself in James Whitaker's soft leather shoes, how would you set about this challenging task? With so much to weigh up and so much at stake, you need the right approach.
Always a good fallback - tea leaves can tell you anything. Is that silty sludge depicting a shark? Sharks have fins, so maybe Steven Finn should be selected. Or is it a Sussex Shark? If that's the case, perhaps the remnants of your hot beverage are pushing for Chris Jordan's inclusion? The shape's really hard to make out because it's so small. Oh, wait - does that mean James Taylor?
What's in a name? A hell of a lot, that's what. You wouldn't pick Joe Pye-Chucker Or Leadenfoot McClean-Bowled for an important match, would you? Names can teach us a lot and some have a better record than others. Take "Compton". Denis Compton was one of England's greatest-ever batsmen and also won the league and FA Cup with Arsenal for good measure. Nick Compton carries a powerful surname, albeit one that is almost entirely offset by his debilitating first name, which is completely unsuitable for a top-order batsman. "Ballance"? That seems promising if the spelling can be addressed, but what of "Robson"? Robson infamously joined forces with "Jerome" to bring unholy caterwauling to the British public in the mid-1990s. That's not the kind of thing you forgive in a hurry.
Wisdom of the ancients
It isn't a dereliction of duty to ask the opinion of your elders and betters. Why not ask that old guy who always sits at the end of the bar in your local, drinking pints of mixed? He'll doubtless have some insight to offer. He's learned a thing or two over the course of his many years on this earth. Why not tap into all that accumulated wisdom? Most likely he'll suggest they bring back Beefy in some capacity.
Short of an opinion? In that case just hijack one. Read one match report - any, really, it doesn't matter which - and see which player the writer believes is "pushing for Test selection". Don't worry, there'll be one. There's always one. It's actually impossible to spend a day at a County Championship match without convincing yourself that the long hours must have featured something of earth-shattering importance. The earth-shattering event is invariably the discovery of The Next Great England Player. Once you've got a name, ensure you always talk up their triumphs and gloss over their failures. Oh, and if you can find someone playing in Division Two, all the better. Good returns are far more likely and no one will ever acknowledge that the player's performances are in any way qualified by their playing at a lower level.
Actually watching the cricket
This one probably isn't viable. Just think about it. Most weeks feature eight matches, taking place simultaneously over a matter of days, each involving 22 different players. It is simply not possible to take in that much information and then process it to reach a clear, sensible decision.
Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket