Duncan Fletcher's dominant position in English cricket grew further yesterday with the announcement of a 25-man 'development' squad to contest the international season.
The newly-conceived idea will allow Fletcher to monitor the development of the cream of English talent. He will be able to work personally with players in the squad, assign specialist coaches and withdraw them from county cricket as he sees fit.
For, make no mistake, it is Fletcher who calls the shots. A panel may have selected this squad but it is England's coach who governs every move the England team makes.
It is an intriguing irony that a person's most valuable characteristic so often becomes their fundamental flaw. Just as Geoff Boycott's determination finally manifested itself in selfish pride, so Fletcher's steadfast loyalty has slipped into a stubborn refusal to admit fault.
Fletcher has many admirable qualities. Under his guidance, England have developed a continuity of selection that has nurtured a confidence and spirit that has seen them rise to second in the world in Test cricket.
But his loyalty can be blind. Only Geraint Jones' closest family could possibly agree that he is England's finest wicketkeeper-batsman, and the return to the squad of Chris Read at least offers hope of a more reliable option in the future.
Fletcher's disinclination towards watching county cricket has also rendered him at a disadvantage. Had he seen Ian Bell bat against Middlesex last week he would have seen the man who could help England regain the Ashes this summer.
As it is, however, Fletcher's mind appears set. Rob Key and Kevin Pietersen will win selection ahead of Bell, and Warwickshire's premier batsman will be viewed as 'cover.' However, it is in England's interest that Bell, as the best batsman in the country, jumps the queue.
A lot of nonsense is spoken about blooding youngsters before they are ready. Bell is 23, an age at which Alexander had conquered half the world, and a good deal older than many of the soldiers sent to the Gulf recently. Daunting though McGrath, et al, may be, it hardly compares.
The truth is that it is a man's character, not his age, that determines whether he succeeds or fails at Test level. No career comes with a guarantee but Bell has 'the right stuff' in bucketfuls. He is ready and he must play.
Chris Tremlett is an intriguing selection. It is bounce that bothers the best batsmen and 6ft 7in Tremlett finds plenty. He is a fine bowler and could play a valuable role this summer.
Graeme Swann, a winter target of Warwickshire's, also returns to the squad. His only international came in January 2000 but he is only 26 and his off-spin could complement Ashley Giles' left-arm spin. Swann is a decent batsman, too, and will push Worcestershire's Gareth Batty hard for a place in the one-day side.
Kabir Ali also faces an important summer. Although his role is primarily with the one-day side, he is also seen as swing-bowling cover to Matthew Hoggard and could emerge as a true international bowler this summer.
David Graveney, the chairman of the England selectors, stressed that the England team was not a 'closed shop' and comforted those who had narrowly missed out on selection - the likes of Sajid Mahmood and Matt Prior - that they can force their way back through county performances.
Realistically, however, the men to fight for the Ashes will come from these names. As several of them (such as Vikram Solanki, Darren Gough and Alex Wharf) are seen as one-day specialists, the shape of the Test team is not hard to distinguish.
Fletcher will have the authority to pull any squad member out of county cricket if he deems it appropriate, though he is not expected to use the power indiscriminately. The sad disintegration of James Anderson as a bowler has convinced even Fletcher that cricketers need to play more than he originally thought.
An Ashes series always makes or breaks a career or two and the answer to the following questions will decide whether England take the slim chance they have to defeat an ageing Australian side. Do Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Flintoff have the technique to prosper against the best; can Steve Harmison prove his poor winter form was merely an aberration and can Ashley Giles fulfil the role he has mastered over the last 12 months against the best batting line-up in the world? It promises to be a fascinating summer.