Ian Bell has to wait another three weeks before he discovers if he's to get first crack at the England No 3 position this hectic summer.
And, if he gets the nod, the Warwickshire batsman will undoubtedly start the Ashes series, beginning on July 21.
That is an apt comment on the standard of opposition provided by Bangladesh for the first two Tests of this season. Any self-respecting batsman will ache to be selected against a side that would struggle to avoid being bottom of Division Two of our County Championship.
One of the best ways to prepare for the challenge of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath is to fill your boots against undemanding bowling beforehand, so that at least you?ve spent time out in the middle, batting for rhythm and confidence.
A Test hundred is a Test hundred and they all look the same, by the fireside in your dotage, spinning tales to your rapt grandchildren, with Wisden on your lap.
So if Bell continues his sublime form for a few more weeks he will be a shoo-in for the Ashes series. He can only do what?s expected of him and so, far this season, that is more than enough.
It?s not just the sheer weight of runs that?s impressed, it?s the manner in which they have been compiled.
Take the championship match against Middlesex. The calm, authoritative manner in which he compiled a double hundred in the first innings was ideally geared to the match situation, with the Bears needing a big lead, given that they would be batting last on a pitch expected to deteriorate.
Mission accomplished first time around, and then he steered his side home on the final afternoon with a phlegmatic, untroubled 47 not out when it could have been squeaky-bum time.
Middlesex made them fight hard for the runs and Nantie Hayward bowled fast and with hostility. I fancy the England selectors took as much notice of that innings as his first. Now he has 480 first-class runs already and there?s talk of the magic aim of 1,000 runs by the end of May, not achieved since Graeme Hick in 1988. Bell only has a possible three first-class matches left to achieve that goal.
One of them is against Cambridge UCCE ? and that?s a help-yourself scenario. The other two will either be both championship matches or one at Lord?s, the first Test against Bangladesh, starting on May 26.
It would be droll if Bell were to be left stranded, just a few runs short, because the Bangladeshi bowlers couldn?t get the England openers out.
But statistical fripperies don?t concern England players. Form and the prospect of its continuance is the prime aim.
Will the selectors go for form or that gut instinct which tells them who has the right mental approach to staring down Warne and company?
Robert Key is well-equipped in the latter category. He is an amusing character, very popular in the England dressing-room for his dry, understated wit. Key doesn?t take himself too seriously, likes a fag and a pint and anyone with such a singular attitude in English cricket should be encouraged.
Duncan Fletcher has spawned too many clones in the England squad for my taste. Thank the Lord for Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff ? the latter two close mates of Key, from their England A days.
When he first squared up against the Aussies ? in 2002-03 ? Key was very funny about their attempts to sledge him.
He wasn?t the slightest bit fazed; having played and trained out there for a couple of years, he told the media he just wished the sledging could be a little more imaginative and colourful.
So he won?t be bothered one iota by the sort of planned sledging Warne offered to the young England wannabe Matt Prior last week.
The talented wicketkeeper-batsman admitted that Warne?s tactics had helped get him out in a county match ? proof that the Aussies see Prior as a genuine rival to Geraint Jones for the No 7 berth in England?s Test side this summer.
And they?re right about that.
Those Australians currently playing in county cricket will be examining closely the amount of bottle certain England contenders have for the psychological fray and reporting back to Ricky Ponting before too long.
But they won?t bother taking on Key. It?s water off a duck?s back to him.
Key?s admirers have a different concern, though. He gets himself out too often when set.
Batting looks easy to him and he has that indefinable extra time to play. So concentration can let him down. He also has a technical flaw around off stump, playing across his front pad when going forward. That?s meat and drink to McGrath, who used to dismiss Mike Atherton for a pastime with just such a delivery.
Key is a fine player, though, and the gutsy way he helped chisel out victory for England at Old Trafford against West Indies bowlers who finally had their tails up showed he could do it.
Can Kevin Pietersen do it in similar circumstances? Surely he is still too inexperienced to take on the best side in the world, despite his impressive start for England in one-day cricket?
Pietersen cannot be risked anywhere higher than No 5 if he does get picked but in his favour is the fact that he has surmounted every obstacle so far in his combative, young career. And the Aussies won?t exert themselves too much in trying to disconcert Pietersen. He came through psychological challenges that were more demanding in South Africa recently.
Pietersen?s willingness to take on the Aussies is an attractive option and I know that Fletcher and Michael Vaughan believe that more aggression is needed this Ashes summer. But will Vaughan accommodate Pietersen by opting to go in at No 3 himself and let the new boy settle in at No 5?
So with Mark Butcher still struggling with his wrist injury, we return to Bell. Do Fletcher and Vaughan rate him highly enough this month, as distinct from next year?
Warwickshire CCC have dropped veiled hints that they?re still not sure if he?s quite ready yet for that huge leap.
When Bell was picked for his Test debut at the Oval last year, the Bears coach John Inverarity rang Fletcher and asked him to protect Bell from the media in the build-up to the Test.
Fletcher, always ready to deny the media the chance to do their job, in the process trying to build up a sporting occasion with a good story, readily complied and Bell was off-limits before the Oval Test. Given Bell?s good nature and equable temperament, I thought that was ridiculous and told Fletcher so.
He was going to face more severe examinations over the next few days than a few hacks saying ?Well done, Ian? fully 24 hours before the start of the Test.
He did so, taking a long time to get off the mark against hostile bowling, going on to make a composed 70, looking every inch a Test cricketer.
If the England camp feel Bell has to be cosseted like that, he may well have to bide his time against such implacable foes. He?s a better fieldsman than Key and his medium-pace bowling has come on markedly in the past two years.
If he was Australian, Bell would be straight in. He?s the ideal age and he just looks the part, as Atherton did while still a Cambridge student. And Bell is more fluent in his strokeplay than Atherton, with the same penchant for a long innings.
I have a feeling, though, that Key will stay in harness for the time being. Fletcher?s instincts remain conservative. Why else was Paul Collingwood taken to South Africa for the Test series, ahead of Bell?
Mourinho's revivalist touch without equal
Chelsea?s chief executive Peter Kenyon tells us that Jose Mourinho is a fantastic coach, a brilliant tactician and total professional.
Mourinho, he says, is the main reason why Chelsea have won the Premiership at a canter.
Hard to quibble with that. He has done everything he said he?d do at the start of the season and such is his competence and revivalist touch that I reckon Mourinho will inspire Chelsea to another famous victory tonight, over Liverpool, to get them into the final of the Champions? League.
Kenyon?s eulogy also hints strongly at his own acumen in landing Mourinho last summer, to climax several months when Kenyon briefed disgracefully against the then-manager, Claudio Ranieri. He has gone on record as saying that landing Mourinho was the best piece of business he?s ever done.
Just as well, then, that the earlier attempt to land Sven-Goran Eriksson flopped so amusingly, in a welter of snatched photographs, with the press flushing out the story.
If Kenyon?s botched efforts hadn?t been exposed, Chelsea would have landed Eriksson after Euro 2004 and the Special One would be working somewhere else.
And does any sane and rational football follower believe that Eriksson?s motivational prowess is superior to that of Mourinho? The Swede would have gone for the long haul, taking a leisurely look at the players still there, falling over himself to ingratiate himself with his senior players.
Instead Mourinho took over with a clearly-defined awareness of what was needed, told the players as much in unambiguous terms, got rid of nearly half the squad that played in the recent Champions? League semi-final and blew all the other managers out of the water.
Including Sir Alex Ferguson who crassly said in mid-season that Chelsea won?t fancy those cold, winter nights in midweek oop North when they?re getting battered by hard-nosed teams. Let me see now ? victories at Everton, Bolton, Blackburn, Liverpool, Middlesborough and they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Carling Cup semi-final.
Chelsea have won ten games by 1-0 this season.
The sort of gritty, uncompromising performances that characterised Ferguson?s best sides when they won the title as a matter of course.
I look forward to Ferguson?s sincere compliments on Chelsea 2005 and his admission that his sneers rebounded on him spectacularly.
Tentative return for unlucky Dunn
If you doubt the uncertainty surrounding a professional footballer's career, you should have seen David Dunn at St Andrew?s last Saturday as he got tentatively out of a car.
It was his first visit to a Blues? match since the back operation that not only truncated this season but, hopefully, will have saved his career. He seemed an excellent signing for Blues two seasons ago ? an England player with pace, drive and tricks in midfield ? but it hasn?t happened for him. That mystifying back ailment which affected his hamstrings dogged him. Many Blues? fans weren?t sure about him.
Dunn has just spent eight weeks in bed after that operation. Eight weeks! Longer than an official General Election campaign or the time it takes for the FA to investigate a players? brawl in the tunnel.
?I watched a lot of daytime television,? he said wryly.
?But I start rehab in June, and should be OK for pre-season training. Fingers crossed, the nightmare is over.?
He returned to signing autographs and posed cheerfully for amateur photographers en route to the players? entrance. If there?s one player who deserves a change of luck it?s Dunn. Steve Bruce is right ? having him back, fit and fresh, will be like signing a new player.