It is 'chocks away' time for England's new era and nothing, it would appear, can prevent them following Terry Venables' footballers on the flightpath back to a place in the nation's esteem with victory in today's opening Texaco Trophy match with New Zealand at Edgbaston. Nothing, that is, except for the Kiwi bowling which, being apparently innocuous yet capable of enveloping powerful forces, is cricket's equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.
In the last year Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and India have all been suffocated by the Kiwis, who defeated every other Test country on their way to the semi- finals of the last World Cup.
England, however, in the first match of Ray Illingworth's reign as chairman of selectors, can countenance nothing but victory and yesterday they were in bullish mood.
'There is a lot of expectation on us but I am confident we will win,' the captain, Michael Atherton, said after nets at Edgbaston. 'We will be looking to win both matches, not to use them to give people games.'
The match will be the first following Illingworth's edict about playing a balanced side. Five batsmen, Steve Rhodes as wicketkeeper, and five bowlers, most of whom can bat a bit. Shaun Udal, the only spinner, will play and Dermot Reeve is expected to bat No 6 with the final place between Darren Gough and Phillip DeFreitas.
Graham Thorpe, a young player and one of the few West Indies tour successes, could be the unlucky batsman, missing out in favour of Graham Gooch. While difficult to argue with in terms of ability - though Thorpe is in marvellous form - it is bad long- term planning and hardly supports Atherton's backing for his tour party.
'Graham Gooch is about the best player in England and I am delighted to have him back,' Atherton said. 'I am really happy with all the squad. Although people have tried to accentuate differences between myself and Ray I would rather talk of similarities. The selection meeting was very amicable, it concentrated on the one-dayers and the emphasis will be different for Tests.'
Gooch himself said: 'I think the onus is on you to pick your best side.' He added, with genuine enthusiasm: 'I still get a thrill out of playing for England and doing so at 40 gives me an even bigger thrill. I work tremendouly hard to stay at this level, I realise I only have a few years left and want to make the most of them.'
While Atherton admitted that the likes of Phillip DeFreitas can push their Test claims, these games can also ruin chances. Last year Paul Jarvis, one of the few successes in India, played badly in them and has not had a sniff of a Test since.
The main threat to England is from Martin Crowe, New Zealand's sole world-class player who, having made a good start to the tour despite his chronic knee injury, is expected to open.
'Martin has been looking to open in the one-dayers since we arrived,' Rutherford said. 'He is happy with his form, his mobility is much improved, and he is a player who rises to the occasion. He is very determined. The break from cricket has heightened his hunger.'
To underline his captain's words, Crowe was out in the middle long after the nets had finished, practising imaginary sweeps to the deep midwicket boundary.
Wicketkeeper Adam Parore will bat at No 3 but there is no place for Mark Greatbatch, one of the heroes of the World Cup campaign with his aggressive top-order hitting, who is struggling for form and fitness.
The bookmakers' odds (England 11-4 on, New Zealand 2-1) are wildly unbalanced given the two sides' form. Rutherford, a keen punter himself, said: 'I am relishing being underdog, most of the English don't seem to give us a chance but I believe we have one, especially in the one-dayers where our recent record is heaps better.'
With Crowe opening, Rutherford, Stephen Fleming and Shane Thomson all capable of scoring quickly in the middle order, and with their suffocating bowling attack, the Kiwis will be no pushovers.
But England have the better players and a new sense of urgency. Successive victories are probable and needed.
ENGLAND (from): *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, R A Smith, G A Gooch, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, D A Reeve, S J Rhodes, C C Lewis, P A J DeFreitas, S D Udal, A R C Fraser, D Gough.
NEW ZEALAND (probable): B A Young, M D Crowe, A C Parore, *K R Rutherford, S P Fleming, S A Thomson, G R Larsen, M N Hart, C Pringle, D J Nash, D K Morrison.
Umpires: N T Plews, R Palmer.
TV replays: B J Meyer.
Match referee: C H Lloyd.Reuse content