Cricket: England find a strong case for a left-hander: The selectors need to discard their all too familiar policies when they pick the side for the second Ashes Test tonight

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The Independent Online
HAVING concluded, in the immediate aftermath of Old Trafford, that there is only one man capable of holding the tiller, the fact that England's ship currently resembles a battered tin bath bobbing towards Cape Horn makes the selectors' next task - deciding which members of the crew should be invited to walk the plank - slightly more taxing.

Before Old Trafford, Ted Dexter was keen to make the point that he did not intend to preside over another summer like 1989, when 31 players were selected for the Ashes series, and the ticker-tape for Australia's reception back in Sydney could easily have been provided by torn-up England selection sheets.

However, when the selectors convene again this evening to choose their side for Lord's, it would be almost as daft to arm themselves with a rubber stamp as a meat-cleaver. It is all very well banging on about what a decent side England look on paper, but unless they are planning to take on Australia at origami, it is already time to start looking towards the wastepaper basket.

Shane Warne's contribution at Old Trafford was decisive enough for urgent consideration to be given to at least one left-handed batsman, which was partly why Keith Fletcher, the team manager, took himself off to Hampshire versus Kent at Basingstoke on Thursday. Unfortunately, David Gower was missing with a cracked rib, and Fletcher drew another couple of blanks with Kent's new-ball bowlers, Alan Igglesden and Martin McCague, also injured.

Gower is planning to play in tomorrow's Sunday League fixture, and thence, from blue and yellow pyjamas to topper and tails and a social engagement at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. Even a stylish bon viveur such as Gower, however, will happily return the suit to Moss Bros should the selectors plump for a thoroughbred in their own paddock.

A left-handed opener is another consideration, Glamorgan's Hugh Morris, for example, but Gooch's partnership with Michael Atherton is statistically unarguable, and there is unlikely to be more than one change in the top six. If the blade falls on anyone (although an unchanged top order remains odds-on) it could be Mike Gatting, whose 293 runs in 10 innings since his recall last winter scarcely represents overpowering credentials.

Alec Stewart's position in the batting order remains dependent on whether or not he keeps wicket, and after Old Trafford, there is a much stronger case for recalling Jack Russell at Lord's. Stewart's keeping was scruffy at best, he has consistently failed to score runs other than as a specialist batsman, and Russell also happens to bat left-handed.

Russell's inclusion would mean losing a bowling option, but Australia have only four front-line bowlers, and if you examine Chris Lewis's contribution in the first Test, England would not actually be losing a bowler in any event. Whatever it is that makes Lewis, talented though he is, yo-yo between essential component and spare part, it is about time the selectors registered their disapproval by dropping him.

The comparison between Lewis and Merv Hughes was illustrated by two deliveries. The last ball of the fourth day to Gatting, a wicket-taking delivery sent down with all the fire and energy the Australian could muster, and the last ball before tea on the first day, a meal-break delivery sent down by Lewis off three paces.

Mark Ilott, who offers left-arm variety as well as the ability to bowl long spells (of England's 242.3 overs, 220.3 of them were not bowled by Lewis), deserves a go, and Phillip DeFreitas was not penetrative enough to warrant retention. The same is probably true of Philip Tufnell, who is making the ball revolve through the air, but failing to make it alter direction upon landing. With Ian Salisbury struggling with a shoulder problem, Graeme Hick might have to be the alternative spinner, with Martin Bicknell and Neil Foster replacing Lewis and DeFreitas in the squad.

One of England's major requirements is aggression, in which case they should look to Foster, who was busy demolishing stumps at Old Trafford on Thursday. OK, it might have been with his foot, and at the bowler's end, but it's a start.

The slight problem with Gower and Foster in the same team to play Australia at Lord's, of course, is that it revives memories of 1989, when Gower copped so much flak for bowling Foster 'at the wrong end' that Gower walked out of the press conference and headed for the theatre. We have not yet reached those depths this summer, although 'yet' is probably the operative word.

My 12 for Lord's would be: Gooch, Atherton, Stewart, Smith, Gower, Hick, Russell, Caddick, Foster, Such, Ilott, M Bicknell.

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