Simon Kerrigan had a nightmare on debut [Reuters].

England supporters of a certain vintage will remember a time when it was always like this. A dark age when the selectors, invariably a trio of septuagenarians who still clung to the days of hare-brained amateurism, plucked an unheralded county trundler from obscurity practically every test match.

Remember Darren Maddy, Mike Smith or Mark Illott? Remember all those moustachioed medium pacers and roly-poly spinners? Remember that 1994/95 tour of Australia when they picked Gooch and Gatting, combined age 78? Yep, we still remember - no matter how hard we try to forget.

But in recent years England's selectors have eschewed their earlier caprices, becoming paragons of clear-headed consistency. Each new cap has been carefully ushered through the age groups, ensuring players arrive fully prepared and receive the support to grow into genuine test-class stars. In fact for many critics, the wheel has turned too far; England's selection strategy has become predictable and conservative.

Perhaps the selectors have taken that criticism to heart and had some kind of paranoid meltdown about their image, like one of those fifty-something blokes in the grip of a mid-life crisis who buys a Ferrari and takes up cage fighting. How else to explain the team which took the field for England yesterday?

After spurning the chance to pick two spinners on a bunsen burner at Old Trafford, England took the gamble yesterday on a pitch far less conducive to slow bowling, including Simon Kerrigan, a man with no previous international experience. To balance the attack, they decided they needed an all-rounder to provide some back-up seam bowling, and so picked Chris Woakes over Chris Tremlett, even though the latter appeared ideally suited to the Oval's bouncy surface.

Woakes' bowling was innocuous, lacking pace, swing and hostility. He couldn't even strike Shane Watson's pad in front of middle stump, a damning indictment of any English seamer on this summer's evidence. If Woakes is the best seam bowler county cricket can provide, we'd better cross our fingers and hope Stuart Broad and James Anderson can keep playing into their fifties. He is not a test-class performer.

With Kerrigan, meanwhile, the selectors should have been warmed. The Lancashire twirler was mauled by Watson in a Lions match at Northampton just last week, displaying a worrying propensity to throw in one bad ball per over. Undeterred, the selectors whistled him up yesterday, and the new cap proved their folly, tossing in a full toss or half-tracker every other ball.

Received wisdom suggested Kerrigan had taken the place of the fallen icon Monty Panesar, but his performance yesterday served only to emphasise the value of the Sheikh of Tweak. In fact had Monty turned up on the England balcony, unzipped his trousers and relieved himself on the members below, he would not have damaged his standing any more than Kerrigan did out in the middle.

England's bizarre ineptitude should not detract from the excellence of Australia, who, just as they did at Old Trafford, cashed in on a flat wicket with sensible batting. They repelled Broad and Anderson, and then savaged the sub-standard stand-ins. Not rocket science, but mighty effective nonetheless. With each passing test match they will be growing in confidence, beginning to believe they can wrestle the urn back from England on home turf this winter.

England, meanwhile, have plenty of think about. Unless they bat really well over the next two days, they will concede a first innings lead for the fourth time in five tests this summer. Australia, a side we were told could not bat, are on course to reach 500 for the second time in three tests - England, meanwhile, have not reached that milestone in their last 20 innings.

Throughout the summer England's batting has looked brittle, but their bowling has seemed potent and resourceful. But now, with the injury to Tim Bresnan and the inadequacies of the back-up bowlers exposed, they have concerns in both disciplines.

It's unlikely we will ever see this team take the field for England again - the chances of either Woakes or Kerrigan touring this summer appear remote. But yesterday's bizarre selection has handed Australia some much-needed succour, and could have significant repercussions in the return series later this year.