Cricket: Hussain must fight for place

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ENGLAND HAVE avoided making an early decision about their batsmen by naming all 17 players in their squad for the opening two matches of the Ashes tour.

It was believed that one of the seven batsmen chosen for the tour would miss out, allowing England to experiment with their attack in the build- up to the opening Test in Brisbane on 20 November.

Yet the selection of all their front-line batsmen in the 12-man squad for this weekend's four-day match against Western Australia at the WACA - the competitive outing in Perth before England return for the second Test on 28 November - suggests they are not prepared to make the decision at such an early stage of the tour.

At least four batsmen, excluding the captain, Alec Stewart, can assume their places are reasonably assured judging by their selection for both today's one-day match at Lilac Hill against an Australia Cricket Board Chairman's XI and the Western Australia contest - openers Mark Butcher and Michael Atherton and John Crawley and Mark Ramprakash.

Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe, though, have both been given a game apiece, leaving the pair needing to press their claims in the two remaining tour matches, against South Australia in Adelaide on 7 November and Queensland in Cairns on 13 November, before the first Test.

Their absence for the opening match, normally played in a festival atmosphere, may also be because England are still wary about pushing Thorpe too soon after he missed most of last season with a back problem, while Hussain missed training with a virus yesterday.

Whatever England's reasons, the tour selection committee - Stewart, the manager, Graham Gooch, and the coach, David Lloyd - have avoided tackling the issue until all the players in the party have become acclimatised.

Stewart will play in today's opener as a batsman, giving Lancashire's Warren Hegg an early chance in what is expected to be a tour of limited opportunities for him behind the stumps, while the all-rounder Ben Hollioake has shaken off a dead leg to play.

Kent's Dean Headley, who has been struggling with a jarred left knee, will partner Dominic Cork and the fast bowling prospect Alex Tudor at Lilac Hill while Essex's Peter Such is picked as the spinner.

It is an important indicator for England's thinking for the second Test in Perth, as Stewart has already hinted that the bowling line-up against Western Australia - Darren Gough, Cork, Robert Croft, Angus Fraser and Alan Mullally - may feature next month.

Justin Langer, who has just returned from helping Australia claim their first Test series victory in Pakistan for 39 years, will captain Western Australia.