England caught out by chicken pox

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The Independent Online
England's cricketers, already stung by much traditionally subtle Australian humour, are bracing themselves for a new rash of jokes in the week the Ashes series begins.

Devon Malcolm, the fast bowler whose fielding abilities constantly entertain the spectator, has managed to prove he can catch something, even if it is only chicken pox. As a result he will miss the first Test, which begins on Friday.

How many of his team-mates are in danger of catching it from him has yet to be established. Most thought they had had the disease in childhood and were thus immune to it, but the oldest, Graham Gooch, could not quite remember. ``You'll have to ask my mum,'' he said.

Malcolm first noticed spots on his arm yesterday morning when the team left Hobart in Tasmania for Brisbane. The disease now covers most of the upper body that was supposed to inflict fear and despair in Australia's much-vaunted batsmen. Instead, it has done the same to England, for whom Malcolm is a vital and much-liked team member.

England's captain, Mike Atherton, did not disguise his disappointment at losing his one potential match-winner on the eve of the series. Atherton has hinted that the original tour party, which saw the experienced Angus Fraser left out, was not the most far-sighted piece of selection. But if the party looks as if it was picked by Blind Pugh, no one is mentioning the Black Spot.

Martin Johnson, page 40