Cricket: England may go for Smith's swing

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The Independent Online
England emerged from a couple of days of archery, clay pigeon shooting, an hour-long lecture from a former MP and world 800 metre record holder, Seb Coe, and some general squad bonding and got down to cricket again. One of the first things they did was to change the 12 from that which was at Old Trafford. For the third time Middlesex slow left-arm bowler Phil Tufnell was sent home - he was also 12th man at Lord's - and in came Mike Smith, England's leading wicket-taker.

And after a lengthy nets session at Headingley yesterday all the signs were that the Gloucestershire left-arm swing bowler, who has taken 55 wickets at 14.14, should win his first cap, probably at the expense of Somerset's Andrew Caddick, who has taken just 11 wickets for 329 runs in the Ashes series to date.

"I found out I was in the 12 last night," Smith, who was born just up the road from Headingley in Dewsbury, said. "I'm very pleased. It's important to have good memories of a ground and that is the case for me at Headingley. I had 10 wickets in a match here earlier this season, so I'll be happy here and even happier if it swings."

Smith also took four wickets against the Australians at Bristol, including the wicket of Mark Taylor off the fourth ball of the match. And even if Caddick plays England are still not 100 per cent happy about Dean Headley's fitness and the Kent man's ability to withstand the rigours of a five- day Test.

Headley has been suffering from a side strain which he felt slightly in the third Test and then aggravated it in the Benson and Hedges Cup final 10 days ago. He bowled eight overs in the Sunday League at the weekend with no ill-effects but the England management are taking no chances.

"Dean put in a terrific session today,"said the England coach, David Lloyd. "He bowled for half an hour for real in the nets without stopping, and a further 20 minutes out in the middle. We will look at the reaction he shows tomorrow, then he will do the same things all over again and we will then see what the reaction is on Thursday. At which point we will make our decision. But as of now Dean is fine."

What is certain is that the top six in the batting order will all carry on. "We will be looking for an all-round improvement in our game," Lloyd said. "I think we got what we deserved at Old Trafford, we didn't bowl or bat well."

If Smith plays it will also reduce the impact of the choice of wicket, since he is a swing bowler, it is atmospheric as opposed to terrestrial conditions which will dictate how well he does.

David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, explained the events that led to England's decision to reject the original first-choice pitch that was used for the Texaco Trophy one day international in May.

"The pitches are prepared under the control of Harry Brind, the ECB [England Cricket Board] Inspector of Pitches. He liaises with the ground authorities leading up to a Test match. Given that weather conditions have not been normal, in Harry's opinion the grass had not grown back sufficiently and he felt that the reserve pitch which had been prepared was a better wicket and fitted the guidelines for first-class games: that is, a dry wicket with an even covering of grass."

Lloyd insisted that the England management have no real say in the choice of wicket. "They prepare it and we play on it," he said, clearly exasperated at all the furore the pitch switch has caused.