Australia give early warning

The advance party for the 1997 Ashes has landed.
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The Independent Online
Wolves in sheep's clothing have slipped into England. While eyes have been fixed firmly on West Indies, and perhaps on South Africa's Under- 19 team, another touring cricket team arrived under the innocuous title of Young Australia.

The team's average age may be only 23 but four of them have already played for Australia and six for Australia A, so some poor Poms are going to reel off a rich green field somewhere deep in the shires feeling as if they have been mugged.

The raiders have come with a long-term plan, as their manager, the former fast bowler, Dave Gilbert, explains. "This team was chosen with the 1997 Ashes tour in mind. We want to see how these young players adapt to English conditions and this tour will give them an early look."

That early look, perhaps more of a wolfish eye being cast over a hunting ground, involves 32 days' cricket here, and two in the Netherlands - a packed programme that includes four-day matches against Hampshire, Leicestershire and Sussex, four more three-day games against first-class counties, one- day games againt Yorkshire and Gloucestershire, and one representative match, a four-day game against a Test and County Cricket Board XI, which will be effectively England A, at Edgbaston starting on 17 August.

"The boys know," added Gilbert, "that although we are not playing an international match the game against the TCCB will be regarded as one and it is up to them to work for a place in the team that plays that match".

Gilbert himself requires no introduction to England. He played for Gloucestershire in 1992, and also in the leagues in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Surrey, Kent and Lincolnshire and he can never be too rude about the old enemy as his wife comes from Maidstone.

Two of his four Test players, Jo Angel and Stuart Law, the captain, have played in the Lancashire League. Matthew Hayden is the powerful Queensland left-hander who was lined up to open the Australian innings on the last tour until being displaced by Michael Slater. The fourth with Test experience is Justin Langer, Western Australian batsman and tour vice-captain.

Mike Kasprowicz was Essex's overseas player last summer while Tasmania's 20-year-old batsman Ricky Ponting has already won a huge reputation. There are two new opening batsmen, Matthew Elliott, 23, from Victoria and the Queenslander, Martin Love, 21. The wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist, left New South Wales because he could not displace Phil Emery, joined Western Australia and recorded 55 dismissals and almost 600 runs last season.

Gilbert confesses to having one old man in his squad, Peter McIntyre, 29, the South Australian leg-spinner who deputises for Shane Warne. "Looking beyond Shane, Tim May and Peter, we have no real spinners coming through," Gilbert said. Not, that is, until the 500 embryo Warnes at present whirling up flippers and googlies grow up.

The bad news for young English batsmen is that Gilbert has brought the next regiment of Australian fast bowlers. Brendon Julian, injured in West Indies, had to drop out, leaving opportunities for the South Australian pair, Shane George and Mark Harrity. Harrity, sporting a blond goatee, "looks mean" admits his manager. George took 65 wickets in all cricket last season. "Seventy per cent of them on the Adelaide Oval which is flat and where the quicks have to work for their wickets," according to Gilbert.

Like their senior counterparts, these Australians mean business. They arrived at the crack of dawn at Heathrow on the morning of London's hottest day for decades and by 1.30pm they were hurling themselves around the Nursery at Lord's.

They have followed that up on the field by beating an England amateur team in a one-day match at Trowbridge, and then Somerset in a three-day game after setting them a run chase, before drawing with Glamorgan at Neath.

REMAINING FIXTURES: 18 July Yorkshire (1 day, Headingley); 19 July Derbyshire (3 days, Chesterfield); 22 July Worcestershire (3 days, Worcester); 26 July Gloucestershire (1 day, Cheltenham); 28 July Hampshire (4 days, Southampton); 3 August Leicestershire (4 days, Leicester); 8 August Surrey (1 day, The Oval); 11 August Sussex (4 days, Hove); 17 August TCCB XI (4 days, Edgbaston).