Jack Bannister on England's options for the key final Test and contributory factors to Warwickshire's defeat...
England have had a dream of a summer, with only two difficult decisions for the selectors to make in picking squads for five npower Ashes Test matches - what to do after the thrashing at Lord's, and how best to cover for the likely absence of Simon Jones at the Oval in three days' time?
They got the first one spot on, with a no-change policy firing up the players who let themselves down in the first Test to attack Australia in the next three contests. But the second one, announced yesterday, looks horribly wrong.
Neither Jimmy Anderson nor Paul Collingwood will improve the balance of the side, whoever plays if Jones's stress injury to his right ankle forces the first change of the summer.
Ironically, the only wickets taken by a player who was born in England in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy final at Lord's on Saturday were the two by Chris Tremlett - whose wayward performance meant his first exclusion from the XII this series.
So much for yesteryear when an oustanding performance in a domestic final often clinched a touring place for the winter. The odds have changed appreciably since, with only 11 of Saturday's 22 players for Hampshire and Warwickshire qualified to play for England.
Jones was bullish about his fitness yesterday, with chairman of selectors David Graveney equally hopeful because "so far I have not heard from our medical staff that he is ruled out. He will be given maximum time to prove his fitness, and so far he has responded well to treatment."
Maybe, but it is impossible to give a bowler suffering from a stress injury, compared with a twist or tear, a meaningful fitness test. You can bowl him for an hour in the nets on Tuesday and Wednesday but that does not answer the crucial question about his ability to bowl 30 -40 overs over five days - especially if he is asked to bowl through four or five consecutive sessions, as is not unknown at the Oval.
So, if Jones plays, it is a massive gamble. If he doesn't, the risk of picking either Anderson or Collinwood would be almost the same if Michael Vaughan loses the toss on the best batting pitch of the series and only slightly reduced if England bat first.
Anderson first. He was returned to county cricket after a woeful last Test appearance in Johannesburg in January in order to iron out basic faults in his action which cause an unacceptable level of inconsistency.
He might have taken 51 first-class wickets for Lancashire this summer but at a cost of 31.8 apiece. His economy rate is nearer four per over than three. A local source believes it would be madness to play him in such a crucial match.
Matthew Hayden has been denied lift-off in the series entirely because of disciplined and aggressive bowling which Anderson is unlikely to offer.
That leaves Collingwood --one place behind Anderson in the national averages but with only 20 wickets - namely, a fill-in bowler who will leave Vaughan a four-man attack, with all the problems that that caused at Trent Bridge eight days ago.
As for the Lord's final on Saturday, at least Warwickshire can console themselves that they were not unlucky. They won the toss but poor bowling wasted any advantage with the notable exception of Makhaya Ntini. They conceded 20 wides compared with ten from Hampshire, and lost by 18.
There were two other major contributory factors - the attack of cramp which cut short Ian Bell's innings, although there were already hints of a decline in momentum, with his partnership with Nick Knight of 122 coming at five per over, and a target of 125 in 19 overs now needing an asking rate of 6.5 per over.
The most telling factor was that when Knight was seventh out with 17 balls to go he had faced 127 balls out of 292 while he was at the crease. His partners faced 165.
Sometimes such a disparity in strike just happens but it should not over such a distance.
Domestic final? In name only because of the impact made by two Australians, a Zimbabwean, and various cricketers from Southern Africa.
The threat to the county structure from overseas players, Kolpak and other cricketers who play under a flag of convenience, shows no sign of diminishing, despite the threatened financial sanctions against sides who fail to field an arbitrary number of England-qualifed cricketers.
Pot-hunting rules the world, and why not? Hampshire are to be congratulated on a terrific season but their trawling of the world for ready-made top cricketers shows no sign of let-up.
As a consequence, they are releasing two of their most promising English players in recent years - wicketkeeper Derek Kenway, who was chosen for the first ECB National Academy squad in 2001, and Lawrence Prittipaul. Hampshire will argue that Kenway has played nearly 100 first-class matches for them and has not improved.
Hence, their signing of Nic Pothas who played three one-day internationals for his native South Africa four years ago. He becomes qualified for England before the end of this year - there's a thought for the selectors when the inevitable time comes for a re-think about Geraint Jones.
What about Saturday's man of the match Sean Ervine from Zimbabwe? There is a 22-year-old who is keeping all his options open.
He quit Zimbabwe last year. He now plans to twin first-class cricket with Hampshire with playing for Western Australia. He played grade cricket in Perth last winter but could not break into the state side because of the presence of fellow Zimbabwean Murray Goodwin.
He plays for Sussex and is a naturalised Australian. Ervine's ace in the hole is that he has an Irish passport so does not count as an overseas player for Hampshire, and could be eligible for England if he "does a Pietersen" and serves a four-year qualification. Time to have a lie down in a dark room and dream about long ago when every county had to play a minimum of nine cricketers qualified for England.