Cricket: Enter Giles in Test of spin

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The Independent Online
IF AUSTRALIA took something of a gamble by selecting Shane Warne to play in the fifth Test starting here tomorrow, England backed a rank outsider yesterday when they named their 12 for the match. The England line-up includes a player not even in their squad for the Test series, the Warwickshire left-arm spin bowler, Ashley Giles.

Giles, who has not played since September, arrived in Australia only last week with the limited-overs team but has been rushed into the squad for the fifth Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where England are bidding to square the series.

England's captain, Alec Stewart, said the starting team for the Test would not be decided until match day but hinted Giles was likely to play because of the SCG's reputation as a spinners' wicket.

The pitch, allegedly spinning even more than usual this season, will decide everything. It may even force Stewart back into keeping wicket, though to do that it will have to promise to spin extravagantly on the second day, in which case Giles would replace Warren Hegg and join Peter Such as the second spinner. At a pinch, and should the "good of the team" demand it, Stewart could open and keep.

"If he [Giles] does play, it will be asking a lot, but we feel this fellow is up to it," Stewart said. "He has played big games for Warwickshire, he's already played one Test match and we feel, if he is asked, there won't be a problem.

"The SCG has obviously got a history of turning and we just felt with him in the country it gives us another option."

Giles played his one and only Test against South Africa this year, moving ahead of Phil Tufnell in the England pecking order, and finished with match figures of 1 for 106.

Although his only action so far has been in the one-day match against Queensland Country earlier this week, he is confident of performing well. "Everyone will be nervous, it's a big test for England," Giles said.

Sadly, unless the pitch is green and hard, or Stewart plays five bowlers, there will be no place for Alex Tudor. Sport is ruthless in punishing those who miss their opportunities and Tudor's withdrawal from the fourth Test with a sore hip meant that others took the wickets on a pitch where he might otherwise have made his name.

If there is anyone besides Giles and Warne for whom the Sydney Test will be an examination of character, it is Michael Atherton. The former England captain has played 88 Tests for England but could scarcely have contributed less towards England's victory in Melbourne, where he registered his first pair in Test cricket.

Unlike Warne, who has largely had a low-key build-up to this moment, Atherton's tour has been discussed and dissected, his poor form blamed on anything from technical problems and bachelorhood, to a bad back.

In three days of cricket at the MCG, he only touched the ball twice, once to snick a catch to Ian Healy (though judging by his reaction he obviously felt he did not hit it) and once with the inside edge, a nick that prevented a very plumb looking lbw from being given out.

He missed the next ball but then so might have one or two, his off-stump flattened by a corker from Damien Fleming. When fielding he fared little better, and placed mainly at first slip he looked on as Graeme Hick pouched the flying edges.

Failure at the highest level is never tolerated for long before more pressing questions are asked, so Atherton needs a score. Mind you, talk that Sydney could be his last Test is piffle. It was only four months ago that the whole of Britain was lauding him for his undefeated match- clinching 98 against South Africa at Trent Bridge.

Mind you, there is no doubt that he is more than a little pre-occupied by the slump and, quite simply, if England are to improve their chances of leaving Australia all-square, they need him in the runs.

In some ways, Melbourne was fairly typical of England's victories, in that the match situation left them few alternatives. In other words there was a single route on which to focus their efforts. Winning at Sydney, on what will probably be a bunsen burner (a big turning wicket) will require them to shape the game, and that means big runs from both openers. If the ball is turning, scoring runs down the order could be a tricky business.

If England were gamblers, which they tend not to be, John Crawley would probably be a better bet than Mark Butcher. Australia, in a move almost unprecedented in modern Test cricket, are set to play three spinners. Both Crawley and Atherton play spin well, while Butcher is only adequate against it. Of course, to get to the spinners, both Lancastrians have to get past Glenn McGrath first, something they have failed to do all tour.

There is no doubt that Australia will come to Sydney more than a little startled by the intensity of England's cricket in the last Test. The juggernaut that threatened to overwhelm England has suddenly blown a tyre, its momentum slowed to something more manageable, more beatable even.

That is why Warne has been brought in, possibly before he is quite ready. The mind game is big in Australia and spinners will be the biggest exponents of that, especially now that McGrath has been gagged.

In four Shield games Warne has taken eight wickets and largely looked ineffectual. With wrist-spinners, what you see is not always what you get, and England's batsmen will still have "that ball" he bowled at Manchester five years ago etched into their minds. As Ian Botham constantly discovered, reputation is power.

Four years ago, England went to the last Test in Perth needing to win to square the series and were blown away. Sydney, however, is a slower beast than the WACA speedway and should better suit them, particularly if Warne does not hit his straps from the off and MacGill is not further inspired by the close competition.

More than likely, it will be a important toss to win and Stewart, having lost four on the bounce, is owed one. The fireworks in Sydney harbour on New Year's Eve are legendary. The ones two days later at the SCG, with Warne back in situ, could be even better.

ENGLAND (from): M A Atherton (Lancashire), A J Stewart (Surrey, capt), M A Butcher (Surrey), N Hussain (Essex), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex), G A Hick (Worcestershire), J P Crawley (Lancashire), W K Hegg (Lancashire, wkt), R D B Croft (Glamorgan), A F Giles (Warwickshire), D W Headley (Kent), D Gough (Yorkshire), A D Mullally (Leicestershire), P M Such (Essex).

AUSTRALIA (from): M A Taylor (capt), M J Slater, J L Langer, M E Waugh, S R Waugh, D S Lehmann, I A Healy (wkt), S K Warne, S C G MacGill, D W Fleming, C R Miller, G D McGrath.

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and R S Dunne (NZ).

Race row mars Test, page 15