Kevin Pietersen's appointment as England captain in all three forms of the game stole the headlines, and rightly so - there was nothing else to talk about. For, while many believe there are profound problems within the set-up, the selectors were incredibly cautious in their squad for The Oval. There was only one change, with Ravi Bopara coming in, and even that was an enforced one.
There will be ample to discuss, as we witness Pietersen's first game as full-time captain. It promises to be nothing but intriguing. Given his lack of captaincy experience, there are so many intangibles that it is hard to make predictions over how he will do, although I am optimistic he will go some way towards reinvigorating the side, imbuing team-mates with vivacity and positivity and leading from the front, even if my first choice would have been Rob Key.
But what is truly astonishing is England's selectors still seem stubbornly in denial over England's problems. This was a golden opportunity to try out the plethora of players challenging for a spot, answer (at least partially) some fundamental selectorial questions and shake up a side that has been struggling for far too long.
My side for The Oval would have been as follows:
(With Shah in the squad as reserve batsman. Ideally I would try him instead of Collingwood, but that would be one change too many.)
While I would, in any case, fancy this side to defeat the eleven who played in the last Test, even if they played and lost England would gain much from the match in terms of learning about fringe players.
One Test, especially a dead rubber, cannot tell you about a player's long-term durability at Test level, of course, but it is a start. With a radical shake-up to the side England would be beter able to answer a number of pressing questions, such as
Is Rob Key a beter bet as opener than Andrew Strauss? Given Key's impressive form over the last few seasons and Strauss's lack of a century against anyone other than a depleted New Zealand for two years, I suspect yes.
Can Ian Bell make the number three position his own? He has never made a century there, but he deserves to be given an extended run in what should be his natural position, starting from this Test.
Is Matt Prior a sufficiently good batsman to bat at six? And, more to the point, how much has his keeping improved in the last eight months? At least Prior's correct selection in the limited-overs squad will provide some clues to answering these questions.
Is Graeme Swann's all-round package of more value to England than Monty Panesar's? Averages of 41 with the bat and 25 with the ball in Division One, aided by his fine ODI performances, suggest this could now be the case.
Is Steve Harmison back to his best? Can he be a consistent threat at Test level? England must select him for the 4th Test, and see if Pietersen can help bring the best out of him.
Is Simon Jones good - and fit - enough to thrive in Tests once more? Most suspect the answer to the first question is an emphatic 'yes' but would answer in the negative to the second question. But, in a five-man attack, Jones could bowl, say, four four-over spells a day, being used as a strike-bowler, along with Flintoff. England utilising these two in such a capacity could help both to take 20 wickets and to keep them fit until at least the 2009 Ashes. Of more immediate significance, England will surely want to play five bowlers in India.
As it is, England will learn very little from this Test, save for a little about Pietersen's captaincy skills. It represents a depressing missed opportunity. In the big picture, it doesn't really matter how much England lose this series by. The answers to the above questions, however, are fundamental to how England can improve, but, typically and infuriatingly of the current set-up, too many will remain unasked.