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Cricket: England infirm four on target

ENGLAND HAVE been given a clean bill of health before they complete their preparations for this summer's World Cup by entering the Coca-Cola Cup in Sharjah next month.

Doubts over four key players - Michael Atherton, Graham Thorpe, Neil Fairbrother and Ian Austin - following recent injuries left England facing the possibility of choosing replacements prior to their departure for the Lahore training camp on 28 March.

But Atherton and Thorpe, both of whom were troubled with recurrences of back trouble during England's unsuccessful Ashes campaign this winter, have emerged unscathed from intensive assessments at Lilleshall under the supervision of the fitness consultant Dean Riddle, the exercise physiologist Nigel Stockhill and the physiotherapist Wayne Morton.

Austin, who underwent knee surgery after competing in the Champions' Cup in Dhaka last October, has also made a promising recovery, while his Lancashire team-mate Fairbrother has made progress after suffering hamstring trouble throughout the Carlton and United One-Day tournament in Australia.

"We are obviously pleased that the fitness reports on the four players are encouraging," David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said. "All of them are aware of the need to continue to work on their overall fitness levels and they will do that before we depart for Lahore on 28 March."