Cricket: Bits and pieces on Texaco trial

Andrew Longmore studies the options as selectors put one-day concept to the test
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The Independent Online
ENJOY it while it lasts. If history is any judge, England will win the Texaco Trophy comfortably enough and go on to lose the Test series against the South Africans with equal facility. England have a tendency to peak too soon, often, the cynical might add, against underprepared touring teams in ideal conditions. England can handpick a one-day squad, which the selectors will announce today, while the touring team - unless the itinerary allows for some transplants as it did for England last winter - have to balance their selection. "Our main aim is to win the Test series," Hansie Cronje, the South African captain, said. "But our one-day side would not be much different from the Test side anyway." The side is already packed with all-rounders.

This is the last one-day series to be sponsored by Texaco. Few results survive in the memory longer than the first ball of the First Test, but some moments of brilliance transcend mere format. When Viv Richards rescued West Indies from 102 for 7 with an unbeaten 189 in the first match under their sponsorship, the executives of the US oil company must have known that they were on to a winner: 14 summers later, the Texaco Trophy has become an enclave of success for the England side and a generally sunny introduction to the summer's international cricket.

In the past five years, West Indies, Pakistan and Australia have all been defeated, the last by 3-0 a year ago in a series marked by the emergence of the Hollioake brothers and the idea of a specialist one-day captain in Adam, the elder of the two. The countdown to the start of the World Cup in England next summer - and the release of tickets and balloons at Worcester on the opening day of the tour - has invested this series with more significance, not least because England have to decide how they want to play the game. The "specialist" experiment has survived a recent mauling in the West Indies, but the contrast between the leadership and playing styles of Alec Stewart, the new England captain, and Adam Hollioake have obscured the point of the exercise somewhat. Cronje firmly rejected the notion of two South African captains at his first press conference last week. "I like to be in charge for one-day and five-day matches," he said. "I would find it very hard to miss one or two games, come back into the dressing-room and feel in charge again." A sentiment which has been echoed by Mark Taylor, the captain of Australia.

Hollioake has been appointed just for this series, not for the triangular tournament with South Africa and Sri Lanka at the end of the summer. "I hate to use the word `trial', but..." David Graveney, chairman of the selectors, said. Hollioake is on trial, along with the concept of distinctive England sides, which might have owed as much to the marketing department of the English Cricket Board as the panel of selectors. There is more sense than some think in developing separate identities. One-day cricket is not an instinctive game these days, it is a game of routine and pattern, in all its disciplines, with a touch of spontaneity thrown in during the closing stages. Good one-day sides are athletic, well-drilled and calculate the percentages. Pat Symcox, the ageing South African spinner, said that one-day cricket was infinitely more taxing on the mind than Test cricket. "There is never a moment to relax," he said.

The nucleus of the one-day squad announced today will remain from the 4-1 defeat by the West Indies at the end of the Caribbean tour. The emphasis will be on all-rounders or bits 'n' pieces players, so many in fact the next sponsor could be Woolworth's. Chris Adams, who has started his new role as captain of Sussex so impressively, will surely be considered for one of the batting places along with Darren Maddy, who had such a productive A tour last winter, and there could be a return for Chris Lewis, an old ally of Adam Hollioake's at Surrey now back at Leicestershire. Or, if the selectors are in a bold mood as they were in promoting Ben Hollioake on a whim last year, Andy Flintoff, a graduate of Team England, could complete a swift rise through the ranks of Under-19 and A teams. The Middlesex pair of Richard Johnson and James Hewitt are other bowlers under consideration.

In the euphoria of Hollioake Junior's lease on the public's imagination, it is largely forgotten that the critical contribution was made by one Michael Atherton, who made an unbeaten 113 to guide England home in the second match of the series. Atherton's reward was a plastic drinks tray in the West Indies.

With all-rounders of the calibre of Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Brian McMillan and Lance Klusener in their midst, South Africa have a ready- made one-day corps. If there is a weakness, it is in the top order where neither Adam Bacher, Gerhardus Liebenberg nor Gary Kirsten are exactly dashers. The summer will be a contest between England's batting and South Africa's fast bowling which could come as close as any international side since to mirroring the unrelenting West Indian attacks of the Eighties. Bob Woolmer, coach of South Africa, could scarcely disguise his glee at the thought of Pollock and Donald both fit and firing at the same time. Klusener is no slouch either and Mornantau Hayward, a ginger-haired fast bowler from Eastern Province, is quick, raw and erratic. Compensation for any shortage of class in the top order batting will come in the depth of the lower middle order and the tail, a strength which, as Australia found last summer, coincides with a nasty English weakness. England have no blasters of the calibre of Donald and Pollock. Lack of preparation and bad weather gave England a head start a year ago; though with a mere five days cricket under their belt by the first of the one-day internationals at The Oval on Thursday, South Africa, have mileage to spare. It could be another long, hard summer for England and both captains.

England squad (possible): A J Hollioake (capt), C J Adams, A D Brown, D R Brown, R D B Croft, M A Ealham, C C Lewis, A F Giles, G A Hick, B C Hollioake, N V Knight, C E V Silverwood, A J Stewart (wkt), G P Thorpe.