Cricket: Donald test for England

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ENGLAND COULD become victims of their own success as they approach tomorrow's match against the World Cup favourites, South Africa, with their middle order worryingly short of batting practice. The emphatic margins of their victories over Sri Lanka and Kenya - eight and nine wickets respectively - have been achieved without the need for Neil Fairbrother, Andrew Flintoff and Mark Ealham at the crease, while Graham Thorpe has tasted action just once in the tournament.

It is not something which will greatly concern England providing they continue to win all their matches in such comfort, but they are well aware that tomorrow's confrontation at The Oval could be a far tougher proposition. Facing a bowling attack comprising the talents of Allan Donald, Jacques Kallis, Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock, it would be a surprise if more of England's batsmen were not required at some stage.

The experience of Thorpe and Fairbrother, with 122 one-day international appearances between them, should compensate for a lack of time in the middle, and both played lengthy innings during the warm-up matches. However, the 21-year-old Flintoff is more of a concern to England having had only two innings in the warm-up matches although he did hit a century for Lancashire against Essex.

"It's true `Fred' hasn't had much time in the middle but he's been practising hard, and we've no real worries that he'll be ready if needed," David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said. "He's the sort of character who doesn't get fazed easily, a character who seems to take things in his stride. I found him wandering around at Lord's against Sri Lanka and helped him to find the dressing-room. I didn't realise he hadn't batted at Lord's and I suppose if he had had to go out to the middle, he would have needed an escort otherwise he may have got lost."

Yet despite being a member of the England set-up for less than a year, the Lancashire all-rounder is already being regarded as something of a lucky charm in the dressing-room having played in the Test victories at Trent Bridge and Headingley last summer, which sealed their series success over South Africa. "He is yet to score a lot of runs for England but he could be termed as a talisman because since he came into the side, we have done well," Graveney said.

n The former England Test players Ian Botham and Allan Lamb yesterday dropped their legal battle to overturn a pounds 400,000 libel victory by the former Pakistan captain Imran Khan "in the best interest of the sport," their attorneys said. Botham and Lamb were due to return to the High Court next month to appeal against a ruling in July 1996 that Imran had not labelled the two men "racist, ill-educated and lacking in class".