Cricket: Chapple's charge has Test potential

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Warwickshire 240

England A 6-0

England have still to pronounce on Michael Atherton's re- appointment (or otherwise) as captain this summer, and Raymond Illingworth was at Edgbaston yesterday to explain that something may (or may not be) forthcoming tomorrow. It is enough to make Atherton a touch fretful, not least - given what happened to Keith Fletcher - the lurking suspicion that Illy might decide to do it himself.

If Raymond's idea is to let Atherton know that he did not win wholesale approval for his leadership in Australia, and more pointedly, which of the two of them will be running the show this summer, the England chairman has struck rich early season form. "We may be naming a name," he said of tomorrow's announcement, "or we may be naming a date to name a name."

On matters more generally related to the forthcoming visit of the West Indies (i.e. can England string together more than one day's decent cricket at a time?) Illy was a good deal more upbeat. This precisely mirrors the scheduling of cricket matches for April, in that it is a triumph of hope over experience.

Ostensibly, the now traditional county champions versus England A match is an early opportunity for England aspirants to strut their stuff. In reality, strutting is a good deal easier if you are not encased inside half a dozen sweaters, and while batsmen struggle to come to terms with sluggish pitches, bowlers come charging as enthusiastically as is possible when you're wondering whether three pairs of long johns is enough to stave off a ruptured hamstring.

Two minutes before the projected start, Edgbaston was a picture postcard setting, albeit for Christmas rather than Easter. A blanket of white hailstones covered the ground, circumstances which did not make it too difficult for the crowd to comply with the instruction not to cause a riot with "flags, banners, or loud instrument noises".

They did, though, turn up in surprisingly large numbers, and were reasonably well rewarded after play finally got under way an hour an a half late. The sun shone after lunch, and Warwickshire recovered from 163 for 8 to a respectable 240 on a pitch that was not at all comfortable for batting.

However, as was the case last summer when Warwickshire won three trophies without a single England call-up, Illingworth and Co were more interested in the opposition. Lancashire's Glen Chapple shaded both Mark Illott and Dominic Cork in the pace department, while Richard Stemp and Min Patel would have had a more interesting left-arm spin confrontation had the captain, Alan Wells, not appeared to have forgotten that Patel was playing.

Stemp had bowled 21 of England A's 71 overs (with enough variation to suggest that Philip Tufnell's place is under threat this summer) when Patel was finally called up to bowl for the first time at 224 for 9. By that time Warwickshire's tailenders were engaged in a bout of highly effective slogging, which was all the more uplifting in that it brought much needed relief from the A team's irritating habit of exaggerated high-fiving every time a wicket fell.

Andy Moles and Neil Smith both made contrasting half- centuries, Moles accumulating steadily, and Smith tonking 55 off 42 balls with two sixes and seven fours. There is, in fact, a decided absence of contrast about the entire Warwickshire team, with the glamour supplied this summer, in the absence of Lara, by Allan Donald.

Donald's appeal for a catch behind against Jason Gallian before he had scored was certainly impressive, and having continued his gallop all the way through to the wicketkeeper, Donald's detour on the way back may have been to proffer an opinion on what Gallian might have learned about walking during his upbringing in Australia.

Earlier, Illingworth had been talking about four A team players who had been identified as ready for Test cricket, and Gallian may well have been one of them. "We have got to get our players believing in themselves," Illingworth said, and Gallian, as is the Australian way, possesses self- confidence as well as class.

Illingworth, though, dismissed suggestions that Ian Botham might be added to the specialist batting and bowling coaches about to be appointed. "He's been too involved in pantomime," Illy said, ignoring the fact this would appear to be an ideal qualification.

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