Cricket: England rest key players for one-day match

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The Independent Online
A SECURITY net will be thrown around England's one-day game against a combined Eastern Province/Border team in the nearby town of Alice today but it is not for Nasser Hussain's team, despite a rumoured gathering of the Rudi Koertzen fan club. Instead the protection is for President Thabo Mbeki, Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour and Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete, who are all set to attend.

If the game appears too small to attract this calibre of political big- wig, the venue may have something to do with it. Alice is next door to Fort Hare University, the first South African institution to offer tertiary education to non-whites. Nelson Mandela among others attended and it may just be that the promise of some cricket, as well as a visit to the old alma mater, was simply too good to refuse.

The area around Alice, about 70 miles inland from here, has been a black cricket stronghold for over a hundred years, after being introduced by Scottish missionaries in the last century.

It is also famed for its "Slaughter of the Sheep" cricket festival where each team brings along a sheep as price of entry. The winning team get to keep their opponent's sheep, which are usually eaten on the spot. Substitute sponsored cars for the mutton and the England and Wales Cricket Board could use the ruse to persuade county cricketers to try that bit harder when the chips are down.

Makhaya Ntini, the first black african to represent South Africa at Test level, also hails from this area. Back after his rape conviction was overturned on appeal, he is one of two fast bowlers from the area. The other is Malibongwe Maketa, who recently spent six days in Hansie Cronje's house, in order to "live, breathe and eat" captaincy. If that was a meaningful experience, his time at Dennis Lillee's fast bowling academy in Madras has turned him into a exciting prospect.

With a four-day match at the weekend, England have rested five of the last Test side. The most surprising omission is Mark Butcher. Only two days ago, both Hussain and coach Duncan Fletcher were stressing that Butcher would be given every chance to translate his net form (he is apparently hitting the ball superbly in practice) to the middle.

In truth, it may well be sensible for Butcher to sit this one out. One- day matches are not ideal for rekindling form and bad habits, so often unpunished in this form of the game, are often encouraged. Also Test matches are not less tiring just because you are not making runs and the last one was played in unusually hot weather.

Butcher's absence gives another opportunity to Darren Maddy to remind everyone that he is alive and kicking. Mind you, even if he scores heavily, the impression given is that it will be Michael Vaughan rather than Maddy who will replace Butcher should the left-hander be dropped. Vaughan, who has so far impressed with his composed manner, said yesterday that he would not be averse to opening the batting, something he already does for his county.

"I feel comfortable wherever I bat, but I would certainly open if picked to do so in the future. Although I'm used to going in first for Yorkshire, I'm just delighted to be in the team."

He cites Michael Atherton as his teenage hero and the reasons are obvious. At the crease, both are patient, unflustered and technically correct. The trouble is, neither score very quickly, which is why Vaughan the Test opener should be postponed until the time comes to replace Atherton, not partner him.

ENGLAND: D L Maddy (Leicestershire), M A Atherton (Lancashire), N Hussain (Essex, capt), A Flintoff (Lancashire), C J Adams (Sussex), G P Swann (Northants), G M Hamilton (Yorkshire), C M W Read (Notts, wkt), A J Tudor (Surrey), C E W Silverwood (Yorkshire), P C R Tufnell (Middlesex).

Combined XI: S C Pope (capt), L L Gamiet, B Esterhuizen, I Mitchell (wkt), M Maketa, M Ntini, M R Benfield, G V Grace, R J Peterson, M Creed, S Abrahams.