Cricket: England turn to Ben the Bold

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLAND selectors, their mettle detectors working overtime, have declared their hand for the third Test at Old Trafford. Into a 13-man squad come Ben Hollioake, Nick Knight and Ashley Giles, while Darren Gough returns after breaking his finger. The new faces mean that the failure at Lord's has taken its toll and both Steve James and Mark Ealham have been dropped.

Mindful of the need to counter-attack immediately, rather than when the series is lost which is England's usual habit, David Graveney and his panel, have clearly decided to be bold and both Knight and Hollioake are far better known for their one-day prowess than their Test match nous.

Knight's left-handedness as well as his two recent hundreds will have counted in his favour, and he ousts the unfortunate James as a replacement for Mark Butcher, still unfit after cracking a thumb 10 days ago. As consolation, James, a right-hander has been told that he would be next in line should Atherton, a right-hander, get injured.

The England captain, Alec Stewart, provided an injury scare just hours after being named in the team by missing Surrey's AXA League match with Worcestershire at The Oval yesterday. Stewart turned his right ankle after slipping on a ball in practice and sat out the game as a precaution.

With James having missed the chance to impress, the opportunity now falls to Knight, whose daring but occasionally flawed strokeplay can exhilarate as well as expose. With Old Trafford set to be a slow seamer - persistent rain has flooded the pitch - Knight's problem will be to weigh up the best way of utilising his strength, which is putting bat to ball.

The inclusion of Hollioake, following a fairly humdrum time with Surrey is something of a climb down from the panel's earlier thoughts on the subject: namely that Hollioake had to go out and dominate for Surrey. Perhaps the "told you so" euphoria emanating from France, following the inclusion of David Beckham and Michael Owen has had an effect. If so, Hollioake will have much to live up to.

"We felt that you can't wait for the perfect time to counter-attack," said the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, yesterday. "Ben is not the type of player who is going to do consistently well at county level. Yet as we have already seen at the highest level, he is not easily fazed."

In terms of youth and potential, there is nothing wrong with including the 20-year old Hollioake, whose one Test came against Australia last year at Trent Bridge. The problem is justifying his inclusion tactically.

To win, England's bowlers need to exert pressure and take wickets, neither of them attributes Hollioake has particularly taken to. Instead it is his languid and bold batting, which England will apparently turn to for potential inspiration.

The argument is flawed, for while it is possible to win one-day matches with telling contributions by number seven batsmen, Test matches are rarely if ever turned round by anyone not batting in the top six. Don't forget, it was the inability of the bowlers to exploit the early breach, that ceded the initiative to South Africa and to which the batting subsequently succumbed.

Until Hollioake becomes a more persuasive force with the ball, i.e. a third rather than a fourth seamer, the most positive move England can make is to bat either Robert Croft or Dominic Cork at seven, and pick a front-line bowler. Shaun Pollock did not become a better batsman by default, and you have to be exposed to improve. They may need to play a bowler rather than an all-rounder anyway, as Gough is not likely to be match-attuned.

Bowling is not like riding a bike, you do forget. The action may look the same after a break, but the feel for rhythm and length takes time and is rarely rediscovered in nets alone. With rain ruining much of the weekend cricket, Gough is fast running out of time, and his inclusion, while wholly justified, should not be seen as the return of superman.

Had the sirocco been resident over Manchester rather than a series of Atlantic fronts, Giles would probably have been making his Test debut as the left-arm foil, to Croft's so far undistinguished off-spin.

More likely is that pace will dominate and England, knowing that a loss will put a series win beyond them, will once again face a side loaded with seam and swing in conditions that favour them.

Winning the toss could be important, though not as much as England's collective state of mind, which must not bend so readily as it did at Lord's. Like that of their counterparts at the World Cup in St Etienne tomorrow, England's cricketers will need to be both resolute and bold if the favourites are to be toppled.

ENGLAND SQUAD (third Test v South Africa at Old Trafford, Thursday): A J Stewart (wkt), M A Atherton (capt), N Hussain, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, B C Hollioake, D G Cork, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R C Fraser, D W Headley, A F Giles, N V Knight.

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