Cricket: Deadline has Thorpe's back to wall

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GRAHAM THORPE has been told that he must play in the Sharjah Trophy in early April if he is to be considered as a serious candidate for the World Cup finals in England next summer.

David Graveney, the England chairman of selectors, stressed that the Surrey left-hander, who is recuperating in England, has been set the deadline to prove his fitness following the back problem that ended his involvement in the Ashes tour before the third Test. Thorpe has also been ruled out of the limited-overs triangular series next month involving England, the hosts Australia and Sri Lanka.

A back injury also forced Thorpe out of the final two matches of the summer's triumphant home series against South Africa, in addition to the one-off Test with Sri Lanka at The Oval.

"We are hoping that we will be having some good news about Graham over the next couple of months because he is a loss to England at both Test and one-day cricket," Graveney said. "In one-day cricket, especially, I believe we have missed in the last year the way he is able to knock the ball around in the middle of the innings and make life difficult for the bowlers.

"He is a key player - but he appreciates that he would have to go to the Sharjah Cup in order to be a valid selection for the World Cup. He has only just come back home and at present is getting over the disappointment of not being involved in Australia. A specialist will be looking at his back in the coming days and then we will go from there."

England fly out to Sharjah on 29 March and, after warm-up matches, open the competition proper against India on 7 April.

Warren Hegg, England's so-far frustrated reserve wicket-keeper, has dismissed claims that his captain, Alec Stewart, is struggling to cope with the triple workload of leading the side, being a front-line batsman and keeping wicket.

Hegg's role as reserve keeper has come increasingly into focus in the last few weeks as Stewart struggled to make an impression with the bat - his unbeaten 63 on the final day of the third Test in Adelaide was only the second time he had reached double figures in six Ashes innings.

That uncertainty was heightened by Stewart's surprise omission from the start of today's four-day match in Hobart against an Australian XI featuring nine Test players. He is being rested in advance of the back-to-back Tests in Melbourne and Sydney.

But as much as the Lancashire player might cherish the opportunity to replace Stewart behind the stumps in either of the final two Tests, Hegg admits that a return to form by Stewart would be the best Christmas present England could hope for as they attempt to salvage some pride from a series which can no longer be won.

"A lot of people have speculated that it has been too much for him, but I know Stewie, and he is a tough character," Hegg said. "Maybe it has affected him and maybe it is a big ask to do all three jobs. Who knows if that is the reason why we're two down in the series, but there are other factors involved as well."