Cricket: England require a mental reshuffle: With the first Test team selected today, Glenn Moore argues for an injection of new blood

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The Independent Online
THAT England and Australia ought to be competing not for the ashes of a bail, but of a wooden spoon, will matter little when hostilities commence at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The attraction of cricket's oldest contest has been apparent from the tour's first days, when anyone who saw more than a row of heads and a lot of empty tinnies at Arundel had either been there from the previous night or was taking time off from running the country.

Now that cricket's most high-profile fan has flailed his own selectorial axe, attention can return to another conservative team suffering from poor results and John Major's example is likely to be followed with a vengeance by Ted Dexter and company when they pick the first Test team tonight. But, as government critics also argue, will changing the names change the results?

England's biggest problem has become a mental one, which is not to ignore one or two deficiences in every other department. At Lord's last Sunday they sank to the level they were at at the end of the last tour to Australia when they managed to lose two one-day matches in New Zealand with stunning ineptitude. In the process they have completed Australia's rehabilitation from a team shattered by a crushing home defeat to the West Indies and unexpected failure in New Zealand to one cutting a confident swathe through the shires and already rehearsing their victory song for early July.

So how do England avoid another David Boon-led renditon of 'Under the Southern Cross I Stand'? Assuming a transfusion is out of the question, at the very least an injection of new blood is required if only to bring in some wide-eyed innocents who believe both sides start the game equal. Many recent stalwarts have failed to deliver in any case and at times seem to get picked simply because it saves looking up a different phone number and measuring a new tracksuit.

It is now too late to start with change at the top although the ridiculous sight of the national captain, who is in perfectly good county form, turning out in the stiffs must have created bar-room merriment from Perth to Sydney. A tour too far is in danger of being followed by a home series too many and unless Graham Gooch can regain the majesty and confidence of a year ago, the team will suffer from a lame-duck captaincy. The side, having managed a revival on the back of Gooch's force of will and character is correspondingly over-dependent on him, in terms of runs and mood.

Border's influence on his players is as great as Gooch's and, similarly, can be a source of weakness as well as strength. His leadership appears to have developed some Brian Clough-like traits with some team-mates' respect being mingled with fear. If England can attain some supremacy the suspicion remains that the tourists' equilibrium can be shaken.

Paying tribute to Neil Foster at a benefit dinner this week, Gooch suggested that when it came to picking the England team 'Fozzie has a chance'. Up went the ears of the media contingent only for Gooch to follow up with: 'along with about 50 million others'. Take away the word million and Gooch's jest was too close for comfort with more than a quarter of all English-qualified capped players waiting to discover whether they should spend tomorrow justifying their selection or 'blasting out a reminder'.

Most counties have at least one player who could regard himself a possibility, however optimistic (the Durham candidate is not short on confidence) while at one club almost the entire team will be tuned to Radio 5 (clue: north-east of London, close to the selection process).

The biggest debate will be on the role in which to cast the heir apparent, Alec Stewart, which is crucial to the balance of the side. Gooch appears to have come around to Stewart's personal preference to play him exclusivly as an opener, but Fletcher is more inclined to retain him as a mid-order wicketkeeper. Expect Lord Ted to suggest he plays as a leg-spinner before all are forced to agree England cannot afford the luxury of a specialist and hand Stewart the gloves.

Replacing him as opener will be the untried talent of Mark Lathwell or the neglected one of Michael Atherton, Gooch's most successful opening partner. Lathwell will get the innings off to a quick start but the reluctance to give him a game during the one-day series does not augur well for his chances. With Gooch's departure looming, whoever is chosen should be guaranteed at least two tests, however hard that is on Alan Fordham, Hugh Morris, Trevor Ward and Martyn Moxon.

The other remaining batting place will be between Graham Thorpe, Neil Fairbrother, Mark Ramprakash and Mike Gatting with David Gower's lack of runs enabling him to be left out. With an eye to the future, the fielding and the confidence of youth the choice should be between Thorpe and Ramprakash, unless Lathwell's introduction is made down the order. The idea of Gooch batting at No 6 is senseless. He should open or not play at all.

It says much for the paucity of England's bowling reserves that Andrew Caddick is seen as the key bowler before he has even made his debut. Chris Lewis and Paul Jarvis should play and, with Martin McCague half-fit and the pitch not expected to favour real pace anyway they should be partnered by either of the left-armers, Mark Ilott or Paul Taylor, although Alan Igglesden is making a late run. Also likely to gain a mention are Martin Bicknell, Dominic Cork, Philip DeFreitas and Tim Munton.

Only one spinner will play and it is simply a case of off-spin (Peter Such), left-arm (Phil Tufnell) or leg (Ian Salisbury - the best bat and field of the trio).

Australia's problem is who to leave out. Brendon Julien has moved ahead in the race to be the third seamer by virtue of his wicket-taking ability - not as common in bowlers as one might think. The question to be decided at Leicester this weekend is whether to open with Matt Hayden or Michael Slater, or play neither allowing both Mark and Steve Waugh and Damien Martyn to play. Nice problems.

ENGLAND XII (Possible): Gooch (capt), Atherton, Hick, Smith, Stewart, Thorpe, Lewis, Jarvis, Caddick, Ilott, Such, Tufnell.

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