Cricket: England call up Headley and Smith

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The Independent Online
The England selectors, no doubt sensing an under-baked pitch at Old Trafford, have called up Dean Headley and Gloucestershire's Mike Smith to bolster the side that held on at Lord's. Only Adam Hollioake is missing from the previous squad as Mike Atherton's men prepare for the third Test which, should rain stop falling and allow play, is scheduled to begin on Thursday.

It may seem strange, after England's batting collapse at Lord's, to contemplate making changes to a bowling attack which, if over-reliant on Darren Gough and Robert Croft, still performed with credit. Nevertheless, a recent glance at Australia's Test record clearly shows that when they score big totals they tend to win.

It is a point not lost on the selectors, who by enlarging the squad, are clearly observing the boy scout dictum of being prepared for whatever conditions evolve from the Manchester murk. According to the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, who was at Old Trafford on Thursday, the pitch is proceeding along similar lines to the one against Australia here, four years ago.

That surface started damp, a situation which, against all predictions, ended up helping spin rather than seam. And while we all vividly remember Shane Warne's "ball of the century" to Mike Gatting, England's debutant off-spinner, Peter Such, took a Test-best 6 for 67 in the first innings. Phil Tufnell also played, though it is hard to see him doing so again this time, despite his presence as the only spinner in the leading bowling averages.

If like circumstances prevail and the pitch is unable to dry and harden, the lack of pace is bound to count against Devon Malcolm, whose lacklustre seven overs at Lord's were not exactly embellished by his hapless fielding. But if Headley - providing he fronts up fit and willing - heads the pecking order on the back of two impressive A team tours, it is the 29-year-old Smith, pipping younger rivals such as Essex's Ashley Cowan, who is in form.

Smith, with 42 wickets at 15.14, is currently the highest wicket-taker in the Championship. While weather-induced bowler-friendly pitches have helped lower bowling averages across the board, the left-arm Smith has impressed with his consistency of swing. Should he make the final XI, he will at 5ft 9in, be one of the shortest pace bowlers to play for England since Harold Larwood - although no one will complain should he match the latter's panache for removing Australian batsmen.

Mind you, the precedents for including a left-arm pace bowler are hardly compelling, and recently both Mark Ilott and Alan Mullally were discarded once the fickle boomerang of swing failed to return.

Increasing your options rarely proves as beneficial as it seems. Often it complicates the issue to the point of distraction. Although on this occasion, with more Wednesday starts in the Championship and the need to keep the counties sweet, England hope to have pared things down to 12 by Tuesday evening.

However, given that more rain is forecast and that the pitch will still have two days to evolve, sending players away early defeats the object of having extra options available in the first place.

Injury may solve the situation, and a question mark still hangs over Malcolm's sore foot, which he bruised while batting against Essex at Southend, a match that Nasser Hussain missed following a cortisone injection to ease a sudden flare-up of tennis elbow.

But while Hussain is expected to be fit, he, along with one or two other England batsmen, has not had much quality time in the middle of late. Indeed, since his spellbinding double century at Edgbaston, and his two brief knocks in the Lord's Test, he has played just one first-class innings against Sussex. Rest and rain breaks may suit bowlers, but most batsmen prefer to keep their strokes oiled and their feet moving.

To the undoubted consternation of England's supporters, it is the latter that is afflicting Alec Stewart, England's best batsman last winter. So far Australia have bowled well at him, keeping the ball in close and full, only tempting him with the occasional head high bouncer - a ball that brought his downfall at Lord's.

If England are to keep the now escalating Australian threat at bay, they need Stewart to score his runs in the first innings, a place where matches are won and where the fate of the Ashes now lies.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Australia, Old Trafford, 3 July): M A Atherton (Lancs, capt, age 29, Tests 69), M A Butcher (Surrey, 24, 2), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt, 34, 65), N Hussain (Essex, 29, 7), G P Thorpe (Surrey, 26, 39), J P Crawley (Lancashire, 25, 19), M A Ealham (Kent, 27, 4), R D B Croft (Glamorgan, 27, 7), D Gough (Yorkshire, 26, 19), A R Caddick (Somerset, 28, 13), D E Malcolm (Derbyshire, 34, 38), D W Headley (Kent, 27, 0), A M Smith (Gloucestershire, 29, 0), P C R Tufnell (Middlesex, 31, 27).