Jack Bannister explains why the England selectors will be forced into a fitness gamble on the squad for India...

England's 16-man squad for a ten-week tour of India next month will be announced this morning, together with a squad for seven one-day internationals and also the England A squad to go to the Caribbean.

The main squad virtually picks itself, with only the second wicketkeeper and an extra bowler not automatic choices. And yet. . . life is never that simple.

Because of injuries to four of the first eight in England's strongest side, chairman David Graveney and his selectors effectively have been forced to operate on a wing and a prayer. They have no guarantee of the full fitness of captain Michael Vaughan, Ashley Giles, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, nor for that matter Simon Jones.

Even a full fitness test at the end of this month will not tell the complete story of one knee, a hip, two ankles and a rib. Vaughan has this to say of the condition of his right knee, which can only be described as chronic.

"Two weeks ago after my operation, it was moving slowly, but since then it has progressed nicely and there has been no real reaction. If it continues the way it is going, there is no doubt I will be on the plane. I should be able to use a running machine in the next week or so, but the real test will come when I start twisting and turning on it."

If, should and when are hardly the words of an unequivocal confidence and the same applies to the other doubtfuls.

Warwickshire's Giles could be the biggest problem of all, following an operation on his right hip for what turned out to be more than just a torn cartilage.

It seems that early signs of an arthritic condition were found and even normal recovery might necessitate him travelling to India later next month, instead of with the main party.

Flintoff says that "my left ankle is fine again, although we haven't yet seen the scans." Even if they are all-clear, he was overbowled last year (532 overs in 14 Tests) which is why that ankle flared up in the one-day series against Pakistan last month.

Fast bowler Jones was another cricketer to suffer from a stress injury - this time, his right ankle which he puts under unusual strain in his delivery stride.

He completes a trio from England's five-man attack whose injuries are all linked to their bowling actions and no matter how strenuous their fitness tests at the end of this month, nothing can be certain, one way or the other, until they go full pelt in matches.

The modern tour has few warm-up matches and there are only two in India before the three Tests - which is why the next tour will be the biggest gamble since the last Ashes trip down under, when Darren Gough and Flintoff should never have travelled, Jones went bust and Giles broke a wrist.

Pietersen's rib fracture should be fine and he will complete a sextet of batsmen - Vaughan, Marcus Tresco-thick, Andrew Strauss, Warwickshire's Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood are the others - with one to drop out assuming Flintoff and Geraint Jones bat at six and seven.

Shaun Udal should be named as the second spinner, with Liam Plunkett now ahead of James Anderson in the pecking order. Assuming that 16 names will be announced, the final place will go to a back-up bowler, probably Anderson.

The one-day squad should include Ian Blackwell as well as the more inexperienced Sajid Mahmood and Warwickshire's Alex Loudon. There may be no room for Worcestershire's Vikram Solanki and Bell in a 15-man squad, with the selectors keen to try new bowlers as the World Cup is 14 months away.

The "A" squad is likely to be led by Essex's Alastair Cook and will include players on standby for India and youngsters who have already caught the selectors' eyes, such as Northamptonshire's left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.