Jack Bannister on how England selectors were seduced by the constant medical spin
No Simon Jones for England, but Glenn McGrath will play for Australia - making it advantage to Ricky Ponting for one of the few times in this gripping series.
Whatever England get out of today's final npower Test at the Oval will be in spite of the selectors, not because of them.
The Jones fiasco could have been settled a week ago - but the selection panel of David Graveney, Duncan Fletcher, Michael Vaughan and Geoff Miller allowed themselves to be seduced by medical bulletins which were grossly misleading.
The Welshman never had the faintest chance of playing in the most crucial Ashes Test match in this country for 53 years, but the medical spinners insisted that his recovery from a right ankle strain was so ahead of schedule that he was odds on to play.
Really? Why then did he not bowl a ball in earnest yesterday at Lord's on Tuesday before he pulled up as soon as he tried to run?
And why was the so-called fitness test staged at Lord's, instead of the Oval where the media were breathlessly waiting?
Reasons why Jones could not play today were outlined in this column last weekend. He is suffering from a stress condition and only now does the England medical staff confess that "surgery may not be necessary and rest and treatment could allow him to tour Pakistan in November and December."
May not? Could allow? It is nothing more than claptrap. Any cricketer who has bowled for a living will tell you that a stress strain is a terminal threat.
Jones developed his strain because he drags the right foot. Yet, still under the supervision of Dr Peter Gregory, he was given a daily two hour stint in an oxygen chamber together with the use of the sophisticated remedial facilities at Arsenal Football Club.
Optimistic daily bulletins stressed that he would probably play. But he won't, as was always obvious to realistic observers - among whom are apparently not the selectors, nor the player himself . As with Andrew Flintoff's stress developed bone spur on the other ankle, only surgery and rest will help.
Instead of which, the naive selectors stood for the mumbojumbo and thus landed themselves with a huge problem for today.
The call- up of Jimmy Anderson and Paul Collingwood has committed Michael Vaughan to one of two options; effectively a four-man attack if Collingwood plays, but an extra depth in batting; or a wild gamble on Anderson as a fifth bowler.
His county form with Lancashire is little better than when he also deputised for Jones in the Johannesburg Test in January, where his performance was an embarrassment.
Vaughan must have a short memory - and a forgiving one - if he opts for Anderson this morning.
Assuming he doesn't, he also knows the only way a Collingwood selection will work is if he wins the toss. Not quite the most convincing policy when, in order to make it work, you need to bat first.
Put in simple terms, if England have to bat second and fourth, they will have a problem concerning the peerless Shane Warne.
The bigger concern is that, bowling first, how do they share out 90 overs in a day to guarantee that strike bowlers Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison only bowl in short, sharp attacking spells?
They can only do that if Ashley Giles and Collingwood bowl a minimum of 35 overs out of a daily minimum of 90.
Remember the second innings at Lord's when Giles was milked out of the attack by Michael Clarke and Damien Martyn, and the final day at Trent Bridge when Jones was off the field? Vaughan struggled on both occasions, as he always will if Flintoff and Harmison have to do donkey work.
That is why the toss this morning is massive. If England win it, they should retain the Ashes by virtue of not losing the final Test.
If they lose it, anything can happen, including the undoing of all the good work achieved in the last three Tests.
One of the great sporting days in this country is launched at 10am this morning when the coin goes up.
Before the first ball is bowled at 10.30am the capacity crowd - now 23,000 since the magnificent development of the Vauxhall End - will hear and see two rituals; Jerusalem will be bellowed forth, followed by the obligatory team huddle.
Home supporters will have everything crossed in the hope that it is Ponting holding forth. Otherwise...