Cricket: Cork can enter Headingley horses-for-courses stakes: England's selectors must take local conditions into consideration before choosing team to face Australia in fourth Test starting on Thursday

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The Independent Online
MOST outdoor sports are influenced by local conditions, and if Ted Dexter - gambler, golfer, and seldom more animated than when a betting shop is in juxtaposition with a golf tournament - has backed any Americans to win this year's Open, he will certainly have studied the form book for those most likely to adapt from their own manicured dartboards to the bumps and hollows at Sandwich.

Sometime tomorrow, while his mind will be hard pressed not to wander off towards news from Kent more closely connected to the Royal St George's leaderboard than Alan Igglesden's fitness, Dexter will once again be obliged to consider the peculiarities of the terrain when England's selectors meet up to pick a side for the fourth Test match next Thursday.

Ordinarily, the fact that England have just pulled off their best result in eight matches - a draw - might have prompted five minutes round the table, a sharp descending blow with the rubber stamp, and gin and tonics all round.

However, this is Headingley, as unique a horses-for-courses ground as any in the world, where England's resident pastor, the Rev Andrew Wingfield-Digby, is liable to intone (not least as he was one himself) 'and the phantom seamer shall inherit the earth. Or at least, this particular 22 yards of it'.

The last 11 Tests on this ground have all produced results, and only if England win will they retain an interest in the destination of the Ashes. The question for the selectors is whether the side which at least applied some sticking plaster to the wound at Trent Bridge is the one best equipped at Headingley to bloody the enemy's nose for a change.

There are two schools of thought on the seven-batsman policy employed at Nottingham, the first being that, as a draw is now no use, it is time for a spot more enterprise. Six batsmen would also allow for more flexibility with the bowling, and ensure the selection of at least one specialist spinner along with four seamers, or three seamers and a proper wicketkeeper.

The second is that it is the weight of runs which creates pressure, and there is not much point in picking a fifth bowler for the sake of it. Or indeed, an all-rounder who would not, as Ian Botham did in his pomp, qualify as a specialist in either batting or bowling.

Given that Chris Lewis is the latest to have removed (occasionally along with the rest of his clothing) Botham's tights, it probably boils down to whether the selectors now intend to invite Dominic Cork into the fitting-room. Cork's medium swing and seam ought to be suited to Headingley and while the Benson and Hedges Cup final is barely admissable as evidence of ability to make runs in a Test, he is a confident enough player not to have an attack of vertigo over the prospect of batting at No 7.

The fact that Cork was neither born outside England, nor plays for Essex, might seem to be two insurmountable handicaps, but while Derek Pringle has all the necessary qualifications - a birth certificate stamped in Nairobi, and a space in the players' car park at Chelmsford - he also merits serious discussion tomorrow because of the venue.

So, too, do the likes of Steve Watkin and Neil Mallender, who both played as perceived Headingley specialists in 1991 and 1992 respectively and finished on the winning side. However, the selectors will find it difficult to jettison any of the three seamers who played at Trent Bridge and, while Martin McCague's length is not ideally suited to Headingley, when you are trying to unpick a lock there is usually a case for including a stick of TNT along with the hairpins. McCague's new-ball partner at Kent, Alan Igglesden, has had a dressing- room peg reserved all summer and if he provides enough evidence from Kent's current Championship match that he is fully fit again, his is likely to be the only name added to the XI that took the field at Trent Bridge.

As for spin, England have not played a specialist slow bowler in their last four Tests here and, before Mushtaq Ahmed took five wickets for Pakistan last summer, the last spinner (from any country) to take a Test wicket at Headingley was Phil Edmonds in 1987. However, England will certainly bring one along to Leeds, if only in the same 'just in case' bracket as you might pack the swimming trunks for a trip to the North Pole.

Dexter ought to recall that England badly needed a spinner during the last Ashes Test here, when they sent John Emburey away to play for Middlesex at Abergavenny and Australia proceeded to plaster England's seamers to all parts of Yorkshire.

Graham Gooch will be reluctant to take the field without Such, and the clincher as far as the likely line-up is concerned (seven batsmen, three seamers, and a spinner) is that on this particular ground Gooch's gentle wobblers are not (assuming the old boy is up to it) as innocuous as they look.

PROBABLE ENGLAND XII: Gooch, Lathwell, Atherton, Smith, Stewart, Thorpe, Hussain, Caddick, McCague, Igglesden, Illott, Such.

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