Cricket: Boldness calls for the Hollioakes

With the Ashes on the line, Derek Pringle says England must pick both brothers and replace apathy with attitude
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The Independent Online
The England selectors, widely praised for their selections earlier in the season, confront their first crisis today when they gather at Lord's to select the side for the fifth Test next week. With England badly beaten at Headingley, they must find a way to inject confidence into a side reeling from the mediocrity of its recent cricket.

Solutions will not be easy, and new blood will be vital if England are to be revived in time to prevent Australia from walking home with the Ashes at Trent Bridge. For that reason it will come as little surprise if the name of Hollioake appears, not once, but twice, when the team is announced tomorrow.

Before Headingley, the selectors had been happy to uphold the ideals of continuity and loyalty, their selections requiring little more than confirmation over the phone. Now, with two Tests left, and with England trailing Australia 2-1, the situation has become more acute. Dire circumstances require bold remedies and the only phone calls likely to be made this evening by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, will be to those players who have been dropped.

Few are theoretically safe from the selectorial axe, and only six players - Mike Atherton, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, John Crawley, Darren Gough and Dean Headley - can realistically start dispensing their complimentary tickets to friends and family.

Well though Australia have played since Edgbaston, England's problems have been entirely of their own making and stem directly from their decision to play this Test series on slow grassy pitches.

The fall-out of this perfectly logical strategy, initiated to negate Shane Warne, is that some batsmen have simply lost confidence. The two most glaring examples being Alec Stewart and Thorpe, who play much of their cricket on true bouncing pitches at The Oval.

You need a degree of good fortune on green pitches, which makes it difficult to judge batsmen. Stewart may be having a bad run but then so is Mark Waugh. If anything, the fact that Australia have scored seven centuries to England's three, ought to reflect more on the bowlers who, in a damp seam bowler's summer, should perhaps have done better.

The pitch at Trent Bridge, especially with the recent rain, could well offer more of the same. If it does, then Stewart should swap places with John Crawley and slip down to No 6. It is not the perfect solution but Stewart's role as all-rounder will be hard to overcome without upsetting the entire balance of the side.

The same applies should both Hollioake brothers, Adam and Ben, be included. Unlike that other contender Mark Ramprakash though, neither has forced their way into contention through sheer weight of runs or wickets. Instead, what you are buying with the Hollioakes is attitude, something England, Hussain excepted, have not had in their cricket since June.

Realistically, there is probably room for only one, but if both are required - tellingly Adam, in the absence of any county cricket, has been asked to play for the Surrey Second XI - then it will have to be at the expense of their Surrey team-mate Graham Thorpe and Kent's Mark Ealham. Only if England decide against using a spinner can another solution be found.

Should that route be taken, it will be hard lines on both players, especially Ealham who has done little wrong apart from not being able to catch his skipper's eye in the field. On the other hand, Thorpe, following his brilliant century at Edgbaston, has done very little right and would probably benefit from some time away from the high octane atmosphere of this Ashes series.

Robert Croft is another whose place is in jeopardy. Since his improvements over the winter Croft has not only appeared to lose his fizz with the ball, but all semblance of know-how with the bat as well.

Indeed, Australia's pace bowlers have targeted him with the short ball to such an extent that there is now nothing between him and Tufnell, bowling or batting, and England's selectors will surely not send the Middlesex man away so hastily this time.

Making changes is never an easy business and although the climate is right for England to take a gamble, the selectors will not be confident after their erroneous decision to include Mike Smith in place of Andy Caddick in the last Test.

Just the memory of that glaring mistake, now bound to be reversed, may be enough to cause them to sheath the scalpel before surgery has been completed.

Possible England squad: M A Atherton (capt), M A Butcher, J P Crawley, N Hussain, A J Stewart (wkt), A J Hollioake, B C Hollioake, D Gough, A R Caddick, D W Headley, P C R Tufnell, R D B Croft.

Why MacLaurin may answer the wrong question, page 21

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