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Cricket: England delay naming squad

THE ENGLAND selectors have delayed naming their 17-man party to face with South Africa in this winter's five-Test series.

David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, the captain Nasser Hussain and the incoming coach, Duncan Fletcher, met yesterday in the wake of England's disastrous summer which culminated in the 83-run loss against New Zealand on Sunday, but the squad, due to be announced tomorrow, will now be named on 31 August in conjunction with the squad for the one-day triangular tournament with South Africa and Zimbabwe which follows the Tests - a clear indication that England may be on the verge of making wholesale changes.

"We, as selectors have met today and decided we would like more time to consider our options," Graveney said. "By presenting the Test and one- day international teams together, it will give a clear indication of our future plans.

Speaking last night on BBC1's Onside, Hussain said the players needed by England are there, but "our system at county level is not the best". He said: "At Under-19's we are the best in the world. Unfortunately some players get lost in the mediocrity of county cricket."

He added: "The time has come with a new [England] coach and a new season to make changes. We need a backbone of a side and more players like Michael Atherton to show us exactly how to go about being a Test player."

England's counties at last appear to be taking steps towards the re-birth of the national side by agreeing to introduce central contracts for leading players.

Senior England players will play little part in their counties' Championship and one-day matches - and then only with the permission of the England and Wales Cricket Board. The initiative is aimed at preventing the burn- out of players such as Darren Gough, who has suffered calf trouble for most of the summer after almost a year of non-stop cricket.

The move, which has long been resisted by the First Class Forum, which comprises the 18 first-class counties and the MCC, was agreed at a meeting at Lord's, although compensation for counties for the loss of players is yet to be agreed.

The contracts are to be announced after the winter tour and will run from March to September 2000. There are unlikely to be more than 16 issued.

On another positive note, the team sponsors, Vodafone, also pledged their continuing support.