Cricket: England go from ashes to Athers

Third Test: Thorpe likely to be named captain but selectors may turn to an old favourite for stability
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a chap called Cairns who inflicted the early damage. With a combination of aggression and swing, he cut a swathe through the England batting. They simply did not make enough runs in the first innings. True, England were 1-0 up in the series but even their performance then was denigrated. On the second day they were jeered as they left the field.

But the Second Test was different altogether. They never recovered from the Cairns treatment and the match was lost. History was made. It was 1-1 in rubber and the English game was in big trouble. England losing to New Zealand and being bowled out by Cairns of all people. The like of it had never been seen. The game was obviously in its death throes.

This, of course, was back in 1983, not last week. It was New Zealand's first Test victory in England, as last week's was their first at Lord's. The Cairns in question was Lance, father of Chris, who took 10 wickets in the match. The son had to settle for a mere eight. It could be argued that the New Zealand team then was better than this one, containing, as it did, Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe but then the England side included such luminaries as David Gower, Allan Lamb, Ian Botham and Bob Willis.

That ignominious defeat is worth recalling because it helps to put into perspective last week's similarly abject failure which also levelled the series at 1-1. Sometime, New Zealand were bound to win in England, as they did 16 years ago, and sometime they were bound to win at Lord's. This is not to conceal England's shortcomings, which were many, but the notion being suggested that they were treading uncharted territory while hitting a new low is false.

This consideration may have helped the selectors in their prolonged deliberations yesterday on the side for the Third Test, which begins at Old Trafford on Thursday. The mood after last Sunday's loss was for change. The batting failures in both innings were not pretty sights. For too long England have not made a competitive total batting first (Lord's was the sixth consecutive time they have failed to make 300) and their shot selection as they tried to catch up second time was woeful. Had they been stockbrokers advising on a portfolio of shares, bankruptcy would have been guaranteed.

The selectors can feel with some justification that their loyalty has not been repaid. When David Graveney assumed the chair it was clear that he favoured continuity. The theory has not quite been sustained by the practice considering that more than 30 players have been used during his tenure but the principle remains in place. Graveney also feels that the present mood against the team has at least partly been whipped up by the media. Partly, it has. But only partly. Batting like England's does not need the media to round up a lynch mob.

Throughout yesterday, Graveney and his team will have been casting around, trying to discover if there were adequate replacements. All manner of names will have come, albeit fleetingly, into their embrace. The list is long: Michael Atherton, Robin Smith, Chris Adams, Steve James, Matthew Maynard, Ben Smith, Darren Maddy, Graeme Hick, Gavin Hamilton and even David Sales. Many will have been brushed off quickly.

Their conversations will have been slightly complicated by the state of Nasser Hussain's finger. Although the captain will be named in the squad they will probably make their selection with the thought that he will not be sufficiently fit to play. This leaves a place at number three and that vacancy may save at least one of the others. The batsman most at risk is the most inexperienced, Aftab Habib.

His summons for the First Test was something of a surprise but the panel went for him, narrowly ahead of his county colleagues, Maddy and Ben Smith, because his was the name which most often emerged during their canvassing and because they had an instinct about his class. As it has turned out, Habib has looked ill-suited to the demands, as at home as if he were 20,000 leagues under the sea without oxygen. But if he goes now it will be for good and the sacrifice will have been made on the altar of his colleagues' failures.

Atherton would be a logical choice to come in, a proven performer. Graveney said earlier in the summer that he had to demonstrate his fitness over a decent period and while there may still be some doubt that he has done this, the chairman said last week that he had played three Championship matches and four one-day contests as though that fitted perfectly what he had in mind.

Needs must, he might have added. Ignore the fact that Atherton's form against Australia in the winter was hopeless. He would seem to be improved in body, and therefore mind (no Glenn McGrath to face for a start), since then. And, by the way, Atherton should also be captain, though the choice will probably be Thorpe.

Adams, a bold player with a touch of genuine dash, might slot in at number six at the age of 29. Then again, they might plump for Hick. It would be his eighth return. Much of the watching public would find it hard to credit. The time to keep faith with poor Hick was long ago and this panel's predecessors refused to do it.

If the England batting will be most persuasive in concentrating minds, the state of the Old Trafford pitch will also be influential. It will, it is predicted, encourage spin but it is also likely to be fairly unhelpful to batting. Batting first will be difficult, so low and worn is it. Just what England want.

Two spinners will be in the squad. Phil Tufnell will play and is likely to be joined by Peter Such, the Essex off-spinner. But the need to play him would greatly lengthen England's tail. Thus, attention will have been paid to the inclusion of the bright prospect from Northants, the 20-year-old off spinning all-rounder, Graeme Swann. He is not a Test bowler yet by a long way but debate over his presence is a reminder of selectorial responsibilities for the future.

Australia in 2001 will certainly be no time for novitiates. There should be scant debate over the position of Chris Read. He is a long-term investment and the dividend should be handsome.

The seam bowlers will not take much time. It is a pity and a mess that Alex Tudor is out for the season and Darren Gough is likely to be. But at least others are in form. Back in 1983, incidentally, England recovered and went on to win 3-1.

Possible squad: N Hussain, A J Stewart, M A Butcher, M A Atherton, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, C J Adams, C W M Read, G M Hamilton, A R Caddick, D W Headley, G P Swann, P C R Tufnell, A D Mullally.




It has always been a source of much puzzlement why a heavy-hitting batsman with a Test average of 43, in the prime of his career, should have been dropped. Smith, of course, was found out by top wrist spin against which, whatever his protestations, he looked like a nodding dog with St Vitus's Dance. Spin, of course, may be prevalent at Old Trafford, but it will not be the high-class stuff which sent Smith into exile. He is batting well this season without being dominant. Lacks nothing in heart.



For two years he lit up the pitches of Wales and England through sheer weight of centuries. They were not demonstrably attractive but they were diligent. Two Tests last summer were belated and little reward for his consistency. Has again been in acquisitive mood this summer though Glamorgan are not the side they were. Would let nobody down in terms of fitting into the team but the time to pick him was two years ago. His time may have come and gone.



Yorkshire's uncompromising captain has fashioned a side with self- belief. True, they are talented but his bloody-mindedness has helped. If this is a crisis then he might be the man to follow David Steel. Not having the most successful of seasons but has six half-centuries from his 22 innings and an average of 34. Would not give up his wicket easily, would stick out his jaw and see if they could pass. Unlikely to be picked, but there would be many worse candidates to steady the boat.



Among the most talented batsman of his generation. His aggressive front-foot play can make the pulse race. Should have been picked on potential class years ago. He is 29 now. The call has never been greater for him to be included yet he is probably not quite as proficient this summer. His career average of 37 indicates a tendency to get out. If picked, deserves a run because, one, he would be worth watching, and two, is the sort of player from whom failure has to be expected occasionally.