Cricket: England want White to concentrate on batting: Glenn Moore on a change of emphasis to the all-rounder's role in the absence of all-action heroes

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TO BORROW a dressing-room phrase, it is still 'early doors' in Craig White's Test career. But as he attempts, for the third time, to close the portal marked 'England all-rounder', the role remains not so much ajar as wide open.

In two Tests since being plucked from the chorus line to the front line by the chairman of selectors, Ray Illingworth, White has made 79 runs in three innings and taken two wickets for 143. He has played marginally better than the figures suggest, well enough to retain his place for the third Test, but not sufficient to look much further.

While his batting appears promising and his fielding excellent, his bowling has been bland and Mike Atherton has shown a distinct disinclination to rely upon it.

He is hardly Botham-esque then, but who is? Since the colossus began fading, England have resorted to a series of comparative flyweights: David Capel, Derek Pringle, Chris Lewis, Phil DeFreitas and Dermot Reeve. None have come close to encapsulating the right mixture of ability and competitiveness and though some, like DeFreitas, have looked the part with the ball, none have been good enough to bat at No 6. Indeed, the likes of Graham Gooch (22 wickets at 44.22) and John Emburey (1,705 runs at 22.73) have often performed better than the specialist all-rounders.

However, England are not alone in struggling to find a new all- action hero. The successors to the great quartet of Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee have proved elusive world- wide.

It may be that theirs was a golden age, but a more likely reason is that the sheer weight of international cricket, both Test and one-day matches, played today places too heavy a mental and physical burden on such players. Rarely have the greats of any generation performed their deeds with both bat and ball in the same Test. Only Botham, whose batting was so explosive it entailed relatively short stays at the crease, managed to combine a century and five wickets in an innings more than twice.

Of the present-day all-rounders, only the South African Brian McMillan, whose batting can be so painstaking it leaves him drained, and Wasim Akram, who lacks consistency with the bat, hint at taking up the baton.

White is clearly not in this class, but Illingworth is not expecting him to be. The chairman of selectors is looking to the Australian model and the Waugh brothers, Steve and Mark, both of whom, though predominantly batsmen, do a job with the ball. Of the current all-rounders only they, and the relatively inexperienced Jimmy Adams, pass the test of possessing a higher batting than bowling average.

Mark Waugh's bowling strength is as a partnership breaker. He mixes up his deliveries. Like White, he bowls a surprisingly quick bouncer, and was consistently aggressive enough last year to open the bowling with Merv Hughes at Lord's after Craig McDermott fell ill.

Steve Waugh's particular forte is limited-overs bowling, when his change of pace is so effective, but in Test cricket he is used more in the manner of South Africa's Hansie Cronje, as a stock bowler who can keep an end tight while the fast bowlers rest. Steve also has the capacity, in helpful conditions, of picking up a clutch of wickets.

While White is capable of imitating Mark in picking up the unexpected wicket, as with Martin Crowe at Trent Bridge, he is not tight enough to fulfil the other role, and this is one reason for retaining Graeme Hick in the side. The key feature of the Waugh brothers is that both can justify their place as batsmen, and with both playing there is less pressure on their individual bowling ability.

It is hardly White's fault that he is not yet up to the role. After years of short-term planning it is a relief to see some strategic selections and, with Lewis habitually injured or underperforming, there is no clear contender if an all-rounder is to be played (though Mike Watkinson would have been an inspired one-off choice).

A strong performance from White in Manchester could not be more poignantly timed since the International Cricket Council meets next week to consider Australia's proposal that playing representative cricket at under-19 level, such as White did with them, would commit a player to that country.

White, who was taken to Australia when seven by his mother and father (who played for Illingworth's old club in Yorkshire), claims he always barracked for England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, albeit in an increasingly Australian accent. This is not as unlikely as it sounds, a cousin of mine who left England as a toddler and has never returned feels the same way.

Having grown up in the gold- mining town of Bendigo, White was spotted by Victoria who, to their lasting regret, tipped off Yorkshire. White, who was then an off-spinner, went straight into the side in spring 1990. Two years later he married a Scarborough girl and moved back to England for good.

Now an all-expenses paid return trip beckons. Bendigo, where his parents still live, hosts Victoria against England in January. White has potential, and if he can realise it in the second half of the summer he could be there.

----------------------------------------------------------------- HOW THE ALL-ROUNDERS MEASURE UP ----------------------------------------------------------------- THE BIG FOUR Tests Runs Ave Wkt Ave I T Botham 102 5200 33.54 383 28.40 R J Hadlee 86 3124 27.16 431 22.29 Imran Khan 88 3807 37.69 362 22.81 *Kapil Dev 131 5248 31.05 434 29.65 *Figures to date, still playing ----------------------------------------------------------------- BOTHAM'S SUCCESSORS Tests Runs Ave Wkt Ave D J Capel 15 374 15.58 21 50.66 P A J DeFreitas 35 627 13.06 110 32.25 C C Lewis 25 941 24.76 66 39.71 D R Pringle 30 695 15.10 70 35.97 D R Reeve 3 125 24.80 2 30.00 C White 2 79 26.33 2 71.50 ----------------------------------------------------------------- OTHER COUNTRIES M Runs Ave Wkt Ave G Matthews (Aus) 33 1849 41.08 61 48.22 M E Waugh (Aus) 36 2177 41.07 23 38.00 S R Waugh (Aus) 65 3495 43.69 66 37.81 B M McMillan (SA) 10 387 27.64 25 34.52 J C Adams (WI) 9 612 61.20 9 37.22 C L Hooper (WI) 40 1832 30.03 36 55.83 C L Cairns (NZ) 10 349 20.53 28 43.11 D J Nash (NZ) 5 114 28.50 17 32.00 D N Patel (NZ) 25 848 20.68 45 45.11 S Thomson (NZ) 10 613 38.31 13 48.92 M Prabhakar (Ind) 33 1338 32.63 92 36.78 Wasim Akram (Pak) 53 1156 19.59 222 23.44 A Ranatunga (SL) 49 2720 34.87 14 65.07 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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