Cricket: Confident Headley ready to step in

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The Independent Online
AFTER THE frustrations of Edgbaston, where the loss of the final day's play to rain was almost as exasperating as losing Darren Gough to a broken finger, England's selectors must wonder when fortune will favour them and their team. Against a South African side lacking its spark, England's cricket was refreshingly forthright, an approach that must be repeated next week at Lord's, where visiting teams tend to play above themselves.

One of the popular cricketing adages - though one rarely adhered to - is that you have to be prepared to lose in order to win. The boldness of England's play, especially on the fourth evening when they risked collapse in order to give themselves a chance of bowling South Africa out on the last day, surprised many, including their opponents.

Considering it was the first Test of the series, Alec Stewart - who is awarded an MBE in today's honours list - perhaps took things a shade too literally. Though, surprisingly, he was the first captain since Bob Willis in 1982 not to lose the first home Test in charge. In fact, Willis won that Test against India, but that did not prevent the selectors from tinkering with the side for the next Test, something that will happen again tonight, though from necessity rather than selectorial whim.

Gough's cruel injury will necessitate the drafting in of another pace bowler and is likely to be the only change to a team that, for once, looked happy playing as one. If the pitch - one of those relaid at Lord's a few years ago - threatens to take turn, an extra spinner, either Phil Tufnell or Ashley Giles (Ian Salisbury unluckily injured his groin in the Benson and Hedges semi-final) will be drafted into the side.

The obvious candidates to replace the vigorous Gough, who could be back in time for the third Test at Old Trafford, are Dean Headley and Chris Silverwood. That both toured with England last winter would suggest they head the pecking order, though Ed Giddins and Melvyn Betts, the leading wicket-takers in first-class cricket, as well as Andy Caddick are all names that will be aired at tonight's selection meeting in London.

Headley, in the squad but left out of the final 11 for Edgbaston, is the most natural replacement for the ebullient Gough. A tall seam bowler with a whippy action, he has virtually conquered the no-ball problem that sapped his confidence in the West Indies.

Firing and confident, there is no doubt that Headley would seem the logical choice to share duties with Angus Fraser from the Pavilion End, while Dominic Cork and Mark Ealham take it in turns to swing it away with the slope from the Nursery.

Before the injury to his shin that forced him to miss a fortnight's cricket, Chris Silverwood was the bowler catching the eye. As Gough's new ball partner at Yorkshire, Silverwood was even outbowling his illustrious colleague. Yesterday he dismissed five Hampshire batsmen to cast aside any doubts following his rusty looking performance on his return this week against Essex in the B&H semi-final.

Were he to be overlooked, Giddins, with well over 30 first-class wickets to his name this season, could be selected in his place. However, returning after his 18-month ban for testing positive for cocaine, controversy, has again reared its head and questions have now arisen over the legitimacy of Giddins' bowling action.

Chucking, or propelling the ball with an action in which a bent elbow straightens at delivery, is still one of the great controversies in cricket. A bowler with an undoubtedly "snappy" action, the knowledge that Giddins was no-balled for throwing in a warm-up match in 1994 seems to have further fanned the glowing embers of doubt.

Foremost in the crusade to have it drummed out of the game are the Australians, and it was an Australian umpire, Daryll Hair, due to stand in the second Test, who first no-balled the subsequently exonerated Sri Lankan off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, for throwing.

If many are suspected, few are actually singled out and the selectorial line is that they will not be lead by speculation. As has already been pointed out, Giddins has satisfied first-class umpires all season, though tempting one with an appetite for controversy may be something better left alone. Which may leave both Betts and Caddick with an outside chance of making the squad.

One of the reasons for Durham's healthy showing this season has been the 23-year-old Betts' ability to take wickets away from home. At 5ft 10in tall, he is seven inches shorter than Caddick, who in turn is felt to be short on mettle - which as South Africa regroup after the errors of Edgbaston will be every bit as important as lofty ambition.

ENGLAND (possible 12 v S Africa, Lord's, 18 June): A Stewart, M Atherton, M Butcher, N Hussain, G Thorpe, M Ramprakash, M Ealham, D Cork, R Croft, A Fraser, D Headley, C Silverwood.