Cricket: England set Tufnell a Test at last

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The Independent Online
Phil Tufnell, who has been in England's squad for all five Tests of the summer's Ashes series but has never got on to the field, was told yesterday that he will play in place of Robert Croft in the sixth and final Test at The Oval, starting tomorrow.

Peter Martin, the Lancashire seamer, could also make a Test comeback, because of continued doubt about Dean Headley, who is troubled by a bruised heel.

Tufnell has played only six of his 27 Tests at home, the last one in England being against South Africa at Headingley in 1994.

"It's been frustrating having to keep getting into my car and drive away from Tests, but I've just tried to keep going," Tufnell said. "At least now, though, the sun's coming out and there might be a bit more in the pitches for me."

The sun hardly shone on Croft yesterday. He was released from the England squad during the afternoon and then the Glamorgan off-spinner learned last night that he and Essex's Mark Ilott had been handed a two-match suspended ban from the NatWest Trophy as a result of their shoving match as dark descended on the semi-final of this year's competition at Chelmsford last Tuesday. The suspension, which will hang over the players for two years, will come into force from next season.

Croft's omission from the Test team means there will again be no chance of him and Tufnell bowling together, as they did to good effect during last winter, in Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

Tufnell, speaking at The Oval yesterday, said: "It's been disappointing not to have played so far this summer, and not to have had the chance to keep bowling in tandem with Crofty. But weather conditions and pitches have not been helpful to spinners for much of this summer. I've only bowled 300 overs for Middlesex when usually I'd expect to have bowled 600 by now.

"I've always enjoyed bowling at The Oval - and of course have good memories of bowling out the West Indies here in 1991.

"I still have ambitions to do well for England. I want to play, and hopefully continue to tour. I know I've played the majority of my Tests abroad. But I'm not thinking about this winter's tour to the West Indies yet. I'm looking to bowl here for here's sake."

David Graveney, chairman of the England selectors, stressed that the dropping of Croft had nothing to do with disciplinary matters. "This is a cricketing decision, a bowling decision. We felt that we needed a change of angle from our spinner. Robert has not been mastered as such by the Aussies, but they have become used to him," Graveney said.

"The decision to drop him has nothing to do with the disciplinary hearing. It was inconvenient not to have him here at The Oval for practice today, but that's as far as it goes."

Croft was in Bristol attending the meeting of the England and Wales Cricket Board's disciplinary committee. That three-man committee, chaired by the Somerset vice-chairman, David Gabitass, and also comprising the former England fast bowler Alan Moss, now the Middlesex chairman, and the Northamptonshire batsman, Alan Fordham, representing the Professional Cricketers' Association, reached their decision after two hours' deliberations.

The ECB clearly felt that they needed to take some action against Croft and Ilott and that they had to be seen doing it, even though the players' counties took prompt action in each fining their respective player pounds 1,000. Neither player would make any comment last night as they left the Redwood Lodge where the hearing had taken place.

Shaun Young, the Tasmanian all-rounder, will win his first Test cap for Australia at The Oval. He played in the victory over Kent at Canterbury after being called up to join Australia's squad at the end of last week. Mike Kasprowicz has been confirmed as the replacement for the injured Jason Gillespie, while Young comes in for Paul Reiffel.

AUSTRALIA (Sixth Test v England, The Oval, starting tomorrow): *M A Taylor, M T G Elliott, G S Blewett, M E Waugh, S R Waugh, R T Ponting, I A Healy, S A Young, S K Warne, M S Kasprowicz, G D McGrath.

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