Cricket: England begin their one-day endurance test

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reports from Cape Town

It is the silly season in South Africa at the moment. The January sales are on and, for the moment at least, bargain hunters are even thicker on the ground than England cricket supporters. But even if popular items like burglar alarms and coat-hangers are all being reduced, there does not appear to be a similar curtailment in the amount of limited-overs cricket England are about to play.

Such is the demand for the frenetic "everything must go" style of cricket here that today's day-night match at Newlands is merely the first of seven one-day internationals to be played over the next 14 days. This is the same amount of games that this year's World Cup finalists will have played by the time they get to the "big one", scheduled for 17 March in Lahore.

If it seems excessive - even the England captain thinks seven is too many and should not have been agreed to by the overseas tour committee at Lord's - it is a necessary by-product of the horse-trading that goes on to get overseas teams to agree to play all the counties when they tour England.

However, with the amount of travel involved, both assignments will be hard work, although the World Cup - which takes place over four weeks and not two - at least affords some breathing space and the chance of allowing players to get over their aches and strains.

Unless the rain returns, there is little chance of that happening over the next fortnight. But while there is every indication that England will try to win the series, they will also "pick and mix" their players, using it to help finalise their World Cup squad of 14 which, under the rules of that tournament, must be named by 22 January.

With that in mind, all 17 players - five of whom have arrived since Christmas - should get a game, although Ray Illingworth's preference for cricketers who are dynamic in the field may limit the appearances of Robin Smith, Mike Watkinson and Dermot Reeve, purely on the relative infirmity of their throwing arms.

England play enough of this type of cricket to be good at it on a regular basis. Unlike Test cricket, there is not the need to actually take wickets in order to win, and some of the batsmen can rightfully claim to be up with the best in the world when the spread fields allow loose techniques to go unpunished.

Despite that, and the fact that one-day cricket is often the crucible of innovation, England teams can often appear too stereotyped in their strategies and their players too obvious in their play. As long as everything goes according to a pre-determined plan, England usually win. But once a spanner is thrown into the works, there is little initiative or acumen to try to remove it by anything other than tried and trusted means.

This can work well against impetuous teams like the West Indies, but in South Africa England face a side with, if anything, even less madness in their method. At least that was the case before the arrival of Paul Adams, who must be blooded if only to find out what fields he needs for the World Cup, where he could be a match winner for South Africa on the dusty pitches.

The rules for these one- dayers differ from those played in England. Apart from being played over 50 overs, there is a leg-side limitation of five fielders. In addition, the side bowling has to have two players in catching positions for at least the first 15 overs. Such restrictions, besides making it difficult for off-spinners, call for innovation and we should expect to see South Africa open with either Richard Snell or Dave Richardson as a baseball- style pinch hitter, sent in specifically to take advantage of those fielding restrictions.

Michael Atherton tends to view such experiments as frivolous, although he may be forced to change his mind if England come unstuck against the tactic. However, because of the sheer depth of batting on both sides, bowling at the death will be even more pressurised than normal and those bowlers who cope best on a regular basis could hold the key to the series.

ENGLAND (First one-day international v South Africa, Cape Town, today): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart (wkt), G A Hick, G P Thorpe, N H Fairbrother, C White, D A Reeve, N M K Smith, D G Cork, P J Martin, D Gough.

The England squad: who's come and gone


Mike Atherton

Alec Stewart

Robin Smith

Graham Thorpe

Graeme Hick

Jack Russell

Dominic Cork

Darren Gough

Mark Ramprakash

Richard Illingworth

Mike Watkinson

Peter Martin

Gone home

Angus Fraser

Devon Malcolm

Mark Ilott

John Crawley

Jason Gallian

New arrivals

Dermot Reeve

Phillip DeFreitas

Neil Smith

Neil Fairbrother

Craig White