Cricket: England must rely on form of Smith and Fraser: Atherton's key men need strong performances and strong support in the second Test which begins today at the Bourda Oval

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The Independent Online
GEORGETOWN would not be much of an exhibit for the Darwinian theory of evolution, otherwise everyone would be walking around on webbed feet, and should the Bourda Oval maintain its reputation for providing better accommodation for frogs and fish than spectators over the next few days, the prize for the largest smile in Guyana would almost certainly go to the England cricket captain.

With his only genuine strike bowler still back in England, and the certainty that not one of the other seamers bar Angus Fraser would be in with the faintest sniff of being chosen for today's second Test match were this a home series, Mike Atherton knows that his best chance of making a fist of this tour lies in playing for a draw here, and attempting to regroup for the Trinidad Test a week tomorrow.

In a place like Georgetown, it is often not so much a case of playing for a draw, as having one delivered on a rain-splattered plate. However, it is at times like this, when you are down on your luck - not to mention ability - that Sod's law invariably pops a gloating head around the door.

Despite the fact that it has rained virtually non-stop since England arrived here eight days ago, and that Tuesday's 'practice' session was restricted to some minor physical jerks on a concrete tennis court, Atherton drew back his hotel room curtains yesterday morning, and for once reached for his sunglasses rather than his sou'wester. Ye gods. Sunshine. He probably called down to room service for a large brandy.

Whether England will ever become a force again in Test cricket until they unearth a genuine all- rounder, and a wicketkeeper good enough to hold down a specialist job with both gloves and a bat, is more a question for Ray Illingworth to be pondering at the moment. As far as Atherton is concerned, he has to make do with the raw material currently at his disposal, in which case he would be probably feel more relaxed if he were somewhere else in South America skippering a bath- tub down the Amazon.

In some ways, his current problems have been of his own making. The decision to omit Mark Ramprakash and not play a spinner in Jamaica was hard to fathom, and he was in such a state about which of his seamers to pick for this Test, that he could not find room for Phil Tufnell in the warm-up match. As a result, any plans to play both Tufnell and Ian Salisbury today would have been clouded by Tufnell not having bowled a first- class over since 13 February.

Keith Fletcher would almost certainly have been pressing for two spinners at last night's selection meeting, if only for the fact that the team manager's expression when discussing his seamers rarely climbs much above weary resignation. 'One is bowling very well,' he said, and it did not require membership of Mensa to realise he was talking about Fraser, 'and Alan Igglesden has also bowled pretty well when he's been fit.'

Unhappily, fitness and Igglesden are not often words that go together, and he missed the last game with a shoulder problem. Chris Lewis has a heel injury, and Andrew Caddick and Steve Watkin can barely put two consecutive balls in the same place unless they are awful ones, hence their omission from the 12.

Fraser's form is the only straw to clutch at, and the fact that Fraser let loose with a volley of expletives at Atherton for allowing a snick to bounce through the slips for four in the last game, was less a disciplinary case than the hallmark of a tremendous trier. However, a more appropriate description for Lewis would be tremendously trying - particularly on the patience.

Lewis has played in all five of the overseas Test matches under Fletcher, and while that is a long way from being the solitary connection with the fact that England have lost every one of them, Lewis rarely turns it on when it matters. Even his century in Madras was in a hopelessly lost cause, and it would not be grossly unfair to label him as a player who rises to the small occasion.

While Fletcher gave the standard comment yesterday about 'going into this game trying to win', he also admitted that part of England's tactical discussion had revolved around the essentially negative approach of the seamers going around the wicket. However, anything that cuts down the rich supply of wide half-volleys that were murdered by the West Indian left-handers in Jamaica has got to be a sound policy at the moment.

As for the batting, England's primary concern is over Robin Smith. England's senior player currently looks less like reliable Robin, as in the bloke who destroys fast bowling, as Reliant Robin, as in three- wheeler. Such is his importance, though, that the selectors have offered him the choice between batting at No 3 or No 4.

Whichever one he chose last night, the other spot must surely have gone to Ramprakash, and while Fletcher's comments about the importance of slip catching were a pointer to Graham Thorpe coming in at No 6, slip catching is only relevant if the bowlers are capable of locating an outside edge.

A couple of slices of good news for England are that Carl Hooper has declared himself unfit for the rest of the series with back trouble and that the pitch should be flat and slow enough to make the draw the favourite in normal circumstances. However, if Atherton is tossing a coin upon it today, rather than sploshing around in rolled up flannels and doing a passable impression of Gene Kelly, the portents are not good.

ENGLAND (from): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, R A Smith, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R C Russell (wkt), C C Lewis, I D K Salisbury, A P Igglesden, A R Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

Shrivnarine Chanderpaul, a 19- year-old all-rounder from Guyana, has been drafted into the West Indies squad in place of Carl Hooper. A left-hander, he played against England for the Board President's XI last weekend, having toured here with the West Indies Under- 19s last summer. He averaged 55.57 in this year's Red Stripe Cup competition as well as taking 12 wickets at 17 runs apiece with his leg-spin.

(Photograph omitted)

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