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Cricket: Atherton called to combat swing swing

JUST TWO days after their momentous Test series win, England must turn their thoughts to playing two of the best one-day sides in world cricket, writes Derek Pringle. If beating South Africa at Test level has provided a much needed fillip for the game in England, defeating both them and Sri Lanka at the one-day game will also be seen as a significant step. With the World Cup just nine months away, England must start hitting their stride now if they are to be realistic contenders.

The 14-man squad chosen for the Emirates-sponsored triangular series, which begins on Friday, has four changes from the one which represented England in the one-day internationals during May. Apart from the appointment of Alec Stewart as captain in place of Adam Holl-ioake, who still makes the squad, those included this time are Michael Atherton, Graeme Hick, Peter Martin and Alan Mullally.

Atherton's inclusion, in place of Darren Maddy, is proof that the selectors are prepared to be flexible. Ignored totally under Hollioake, the selection panel are apparently concerned about the extra swing and seam movement the white ball tends to generate.

With Atherton now back to his best, they believe he offers an alter-native to the big punching left-right opening combination of Nick Knight and Alistair Brown.

"We feel the white ball could be the key," said the chairman of sele- ctors, David Graveney. "We have noticed that AXA League scores [where the white ball is used in every match] have been relatively low.

"Brown and Knight did well against South Africa in the Texaco and they might well be our starting pairing. But if the ball does move around we might want the option of Atherton's experience. In any case his one-day record in England is enviable."

While Atherton is there to repel any exaggerated movement, Martin and Mullally, along with Angus Fraser, are expected to exploit it and Dean Headley is on standby in case his sore back fails to ease in time.

The return of the one-dimensional cricketer is interesting since it was just under a year ago that an England team brimming with all-rounders won a one-day tournament in Sharjah. For now, though, the specialists appear to be back, replacing the likes of Ben Hollioake (average season), Chris Lewis (bad attitude and bad mouth), Andrew Flintoff (better off playing for Lancashire) and Matthew Fleming (done a Lord Lucan).

If some of the exclusions appear harsh, the selectors have been benevolent in throwing Hick one more lifeline. "A player who has got a hundred 100s doesn't become a bad player overnight," reasoned Grav-eney. "He'll be disappointed with his three low scores in the Tests, though he did arrive with Allan Donald bearing down on him each time. But he knows it's up to him to show his ability once more at this level."

If Hick's options are clear-cut, Hollioake Snr's have become increasingly opaque. Lauded as England's saviour last December when he led them to victory in the Sharjah Cup, Hollioake's stock has fallen to the extent that he must now fight for his place.

ENGLAND SQUAD (for next week's Emirates Triangular Tournament against South Africa and Sri Lanka): A J Stewart (Surrey, capt, wkt) Age 35 One- day caps 102, M A Atherton (Lancashire) 30 53, A D Brown (Surrey) 28 9, R D B Croft (Glamorgan) 28 26, M A Ealham (Kent) 28 17, A R C Fraser (Middlesex) 33 37, A F Giles (Warwickshire) 25 2, D Gough (Yorkshire) 27 41, G A Hick (Worcestershire) 32 71, A J Hollioake (Surrey) 26 17, N Hussain (Essex) 30 15, N V Knight (Warwickshire) 28 24, P J Martin (Lancashire) 29 16, A D Mullally (Leicestershire) 29 8.