Cricket: All-round change as England ponder specialists

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The Independent Online
In their bid to find the best 15 players for next year's World Cup, England's selectors are likely to shift away from the all-rounder rich selections of recent sides. With defeat in the West Indies following the successes in Sharjah, David Graveney and his panel see it as their duty to explore different permutations, and see next week's Texaco matches against South Africa as a necessary part of the learning curve.

New directions do not necessarily mean new players though, and there will almost certainly be recalls for Chris Lewis and Darren Gough. But, if familiar faces abound, there will probably be the odd droplet of new blood as well, which could mean first time caps for the likes of the Sussex captain, Chris Adams, and Leicestershire's Darren Maddy.

Over the last five years, one-day cricket has been a game in constant flux. At any given moment, there appear to be many solutions, each seductive and perhaps successful in its own way. One minute the trend is for the bits-and-pieces all-rounders, the next for the specialists. What is certain, however, is that there is no absolute right way and what worked like a dream in Sharjah, namely the plethora of tidy medium pace, proved glaringly inadequate on the bouncier pitches of the Caribbean.

Like any winning formula, it is the proportion of the ingredients that is important and Graham Gooch, no doubt sympathising with Adam Hollioake's dilemma in the West Indies, admitted that the selectors would be "looking to give the captain a bit more variation than he had in the West Indies, where all he could do was swap like for like." Hence the need for the extra pace of Gough and Lewis.

Now back to where he started at Leicestershire, after three moves in five years, Lewis is the player many admire but dare not admit their respect. If he is picked, and all the pointers are that he will be, it will be his first game for England since being dropped following the infamous incident during the final Test against Pakistan in 1996 when he blamed his late arrival at The Oval on a tyre puncture.

Quoted recently, Lewis claims he is now more mature. Which is a bit like Gazza claiming that after a six-year 20-a-day habit, he only has the occasional puff. Perhaps the one-day captaincy at Leicestershire has helped focus his undoubted, but all too erratic, talents. If it has, the selectors are right to give him another chance.

Gough's return is more predictable and, apart from the hamstring injury that kept him out last winter, he would have been involved anyway. In any case, he needs all the bowling he can get at the moment in order to find his rhythm. Taking the new ball, with either Dean Headley or Angus Fraser, ought to help brush away any remaining cobwebs. Other bowlers in the frame and playing well are Chris Silverwood and Ed Giddins, though Giddins' return after an 18-month ban for a positive drugs test may be a leap too far for the selectors at this stage.

Another player virtually certain to return is the slow left-armer Ashley Giles, another missing from the Caribbean because of injury. With Adam Hollioake, Mark Ealham and Matthew Fleming all likely to continue fulfilling the all-round role, providing the pitches are not overly grassed, England may well play both Giles and the off-spinner, Robert Croft. In fact, it was only 10 years ago that the perceived wisdom for 50-over cricket was that you needed less batsmen, not more.

While it is tempting for the present to see the past as a foreign country, the batting line-up is also likely to return to more conventional tactics, with Nick Knight the sole pinch-hitter, probably not a bad thing against the pace of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. There could be no place, then, for Ben Hollioake, whose role under his brother has become more confused with the passing of time.

Although there is no doubt that he is worth a place in the squad, Hollioake Jnr is not guaranteed a game and the selectors may feel his time would be better spent playing for his county than carrying the drinks for England.

After the success of Hollioake Jnr's introduction last year, it might seem appropriate for the selectors to blood another talented youngster, perhaps Lancashire's Andrew Flintoff, a big, muscular batsman who occasionally bowls. However, the problem of where to fit him in again arises and, with Adams, Maddy and Graeme Hick likely to take up two of the five specialist batting slots, Flintoff will probably have to wait a while longer for his chance.

For Adams, a ferocious striker, the oft-discussed and long overdue move away from Derbyshire, at the age of 28, looks as if it will have finally payed off. Frustrated by what he saw as a one-eyed approach by the Derby mafia, Adams' move to Sussex has already resulted in two Championship hundreds and a brace of half-centuries in the Benson and Hedges.

By contrast, Maddy, following an impressive England A tour last winter, has struggled in the Championship, though he has shown rare form in one- day cricket with two big hundreds and an 89 in the zonal round of the Benson & Hedges.

A fine fielder, Maddy can also bowl assorted medium pace; in other words, specialist enough for the selectors with the right amount of multi-dimensionality to please the coach, David Lloyd. Hopefully, the next 10 months could see several more like him emerge. The selectors job will be to find the best of them in time for the World Cup 12 months from now.

ENGLAND (Possible one-day squad): A Hollioake, Stewart, Knight, Adams, Thorpe, Maddy, Ealham, Lewis, Fleming, Gough, Croft, Giles, Fraser, Headley.

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