Cricket: England to resist Tudor gamble

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND ARE in a quandary. After retreating to lick wounds and analyse shortcomings following their let-off in Brisbane, they now have to play on one of the most idiosyncratic pitches in the world. While their opponents are set to leave out one of three pacemen, England appear unsure who will best exploit Perth's hostile trio of pace, bounce and wind. Indeed several changes are likely, the most certain being the adoption of seven batsmen and four seam bowlers.

Had England lost the first Test, there would have been a case for gambling on someone like Alex Tudor. Australia have made something of a habit at capitulating to tall, black fast bowlers at the WACA in recent times, and Tudor's pace, if not his occasional waywardness, would be a boon.

The selectors, although staying in a casino with the team, are likely to tread cautiously. With Team England's latest fad of trying to find something positive from even the most unpromising situation, they could argue that had they taken their chances at The Gabba, and bowled out Australia for around 250, any change, particularly to the seam attack, would have been unthinkable.

In some ways the vagueness is understandable, for Perth has rarely been kind to the Poms. Since Ashes Test matches were first played here in 1970- 71, England have won once, and that in 1978-79, when the Packer era was in full cry.

David Lloyd, the England coach, has particularly painful memories of Perth. Opening the batting in the 1974-75 series, Lloyd was hit in the nether regions by Jeff Thomson, then at his electrifying peak. "All that was meant to be inside the box was now outside it," Lloyd later described.

Although batsman can often have the wind knocked out of them, it is the one that blows up the Swan river that is a major factor. The Fremantle Doctor is so regular you can set your watch by it. Often calm during the morning session, its arrival is sudden and the flags around the ground tend to stiffen about lunchtime, remaining that way until well after the close.

More than anywhere else, cricket is a game of two ends at Perth, and toilers and swingers are crucial to the plot. Spinners, however, are not, though Graeme Hick with his off-breaks would make the perfect No 7 for this match, a role Ben Hollioake was meant to fill. Instead Hick, who is scheduled to fly back to England on Monday, will only be considered if Graham Thorpe's stiff back, brought on by Tuesday's eight-hour flight from Brisbane, gets worse.

Usually visiting teams get excited about the help the pitch gives fast bowlers, forgetting that half the overs are into a relentless breeze coming from the direction of fine leg. With Mark Butcher unlikely to offer more than a few trundlers - he does not want to risk an old groin injury, apparently - it will be down to Mark Ramprakash and one of Angus Fraser or Dominic Cork to do the donkey work.

Alan Mullally will probably chip in, coming downwind to attack and upwind to defend, while Darren Gough, and probably Dean Headley, can spread their spinnakers. Real pace and steep bounce can make fast bowlers giddy with delight and England must guard against getting too carried away with the short stuff. When Dennis Lillee bowled here in his prime, he aimed most to hit the top of off-stump. Last time Fraser played here, in the State match three weeks ago, he bowled consistently too short. When he tried to compensate, the frisky WA batsmen virtually treated him like a spinner.

Cork, his outswinger proving elusive, did not excel in Perth last time, either. Unlike Fraser, he at least has the potential to use the breeze to shape the ball away from the right-handers. Hopefully chastened after his first-innings dismissal in the last Test, he should be better equipped to help the middle order - now almost certain to include John Crawley at No 7 - to get the competitive scores needed to pressurise Australia.

Scoring will not be easy and front-foot players will find runs difficult to come by, especially as Australia look set to play the tall Jason Gillespie alongside Glenn McGrath. So far, although McGrath has taken wickets with his bouncer, it is has been his accuracy and awkward length that have been the real architects of his success. With runs hard to come by, batsmen like Michael Atherton have been forced to take on the hook shot, always a risky proposition on Australia's big grounds.

"I'm happy at Athers having a go at me," said McGrath on Thursday. "I know that if I get my line and length right it's hard to score. That way he'll either have to sit me out or have a hook if he wants to get runs."

If McGrath's tussle with Atherton has become the microcosm of the series, it cannot hide the fact that England's captain is also short of runs.

"In Brisbane, I twice got out to soft dismissals," said Stewart, admitting that he could do with spending more time at the crease. "I've had one three-hour knock and all the others have been about three minutes. I've been working hard in the nets, but there is no substitute for time in the middle."

He should get it, for the pitch has not been used for two years, over which time it has been completely re-grassed. It would not be an exaggeration to say it is granite hard, and so far there are none of the cracks that have made batting last here in recent times an impossible task. Apparently, the problem was that the salt content in the soil was too high, a situation that caused the West Indies Cricket Board to relay the pitch at Sabina Park, with disastrous consequences.

That fracas will not be repeated here, though England will need their wits about them at all times if they are to compete. Australia are not easy to beat at Perth, but they can be held.

ENGLAND (from): M Atherton (Lancs), M Butcher (Surrey), N Hussain (Essex), A Stewart (Surrey, capt and wkt), G Thorpe (Surrey), M Ramprakash (Middx), J Crawley (Lancashire), D Cork (Derby), D Gough (Yorkshire), A Fraser (Middlesex), D Headley (Kent), A Tudor (Surrey), A Mullally (Leicestershire).

AUSTRALIA (from): M Taylor (capt), M Slater, J Langer, M Waugh, S Waugh, R Ponting, I Healy (wkt), D Fleming, J Gillespie, M Kasprowicz, C Miller, G McGrath.