Cricket: Fielding flaw hinders England

Queensland 193-8 v England
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The Independent Online
IN CONDITIONS that initially helped the bowlers but rarely dipped below the sauna side of comfortable, England enjoyed a satisfying first day against Queensland in Cairns. With the batsman having been the saving grace in Adelaide, it was the bowlers' job to show that at least some, if not all, the lessons of playing in Australia had sunk in.

The pitch, slow and damp after four inches of rain had fallen in the preceding 48 hours, was a good deal closer to the playing strips found in England than the usual pitches Down Under, although the stifling wet heat was a new condition, and there was occasional movement off the seam.

Even so, the creditable comfortably outweighed the shoddy, though a missed chance to dismiss Ian Healy, when the batsman was on seven, illustrated that such misses remain a luxury that this particular bowling attack - which is more sound than spectacular - can ill-afford. As he so often does for Australia, Healy went on to make a nuggety half-century, before eventually holing out to Robert Croft in the deep.

Giving the ball some air, Croft took two further wickets, one a smart return catch off his own bowling. His success, if not conclusive proof of inclusion next week, will at least give those touting the seven batsmen, four seam-bowlers theory for the Test something to think about. Like all rumours, this one has snowballed to the point where everyone but the players have taken it as read.

If there is a serious consideration towards an all-seam attack at the Gabba next Friday, Dominic Cork may not make the final quartet. Although he was the unlucky bowler who had Healy dropped after he edged a slash to Alec Stewart, Cork's bowling lacked both spark and direction.

The main problem with Cork is that his round-arm action only consistently tests batsmen when the ball swings. So far, the Kookaburra balls have not done so, which has caused the bowler problems. As a rule, Cork likes to get in close to the stumps, but without outswing he has not been able to exploit the so-called channel of uncertainty, just outside the batsman's off-stump.

Instead, Cork's line ends up either too straight - most of the runs scored off him here have come on the on-side - or too wide of off-stump to trouble all but the most impatient hothead. The obvious remedy is for him to rediscover his swing, though he could change his angle by bowling from wider on the return crease.

England began this last competitive outing before the first Test by winning what looked an important toss. Opening the bowling, Darren Gough took 25 minutes to complete the first over of the day, in front of a 2,000- strong crowd with an average age of 12.

Striking the opening batsman Matthew Hayden a painful blow on the gloves with his second ball - it actually broke his middle finger - Gough then lost his footing on the damp crease as he delivered his fifth ball. Unhappy, Gough requested some sawdust. After a quick search, and despite the ground being just 10 miles from a major logging area, none could be found. At that point, with Hayden deciding to retire hurt, the umpires led the teams off until some sawdust was located.

If it took a few overs after the restart for Gough to forget his tumble, he was again the pick of the bowlers on display. Concentrating on a full length, he soon had a scalp, the left-handed Jimmy Maher edging a forward push to Croft at first slip.

Stuart Law, who will be back for another English season as Essex's overseas player, followed next, the victim of his own extravagance as he top-edged a pull-shot off Dean Headley. Soon after, Gough nipped in with his second wicket when he had Martin Love caught by John Crawley at short mid-wicket.

At that stage, Queensland were essentially 61 for 4, Hayden's broken finger having ruled him out for the remainder of the match. With a slow outfield, as well as a sluggish pitch to contend with, attempts to rectify matters were always going to be painstakingly slow. Andrew Symonds, a dashing player when at Gloucestershire, had ground himself to a standstill when Alan Mullally, bowling from the City End, forced him to drag an attempted pull-shot on to his stumps.

In fact, apart from Healy, who batted with his usual insouciance, only Geoff Foley, a former opening batsman, played with any freedom. Cutting the faster bowlers cleanly, Foley, a tall left-hander, also lofted Croft for several fours and a six. Even so, these exertions were the exception rather than the rule and his half-century still took the best part of three hours.

Cazaly's Oval, primarily an Australian Rules venue, does not see much competitive cricket and what was on show rarely quickened the pulse. Yet England, for perhaps the first time on tour, stuck to their task and out- percentaged their opponents. With sweat leaking from every pore, it was not as easy as it sounded.

First day of four

QUEENSLAND - First Innings

M L Hayden ret hurt 0

J P Maher c Croft b Gough 3

M L Love c Crawley b Gough 29

S G Law c Ramprakash b Headley 10

A Symonds b Mullally 12

G I Foley not out 64

I A Healy* c Ramprakash b Croft 57

A J Bichel c and b Croft 2

A C Dale b Croft 4

P W Jackson lbw Cork 0

M S Kasprowicz not out 0

Extras (lb-2 w-1 nb-9) 12

Total (for 8, 83 overs) 193

Fall of wickets: 1-9 2-36 3-61 4-69 5-159 6-180 7-184 8-185

Bowling: Gough 16-4-37-2 (nb-2); Cork 12-1-25-1; Headley 15-7-33-1 (nb- 2); Mullally 17-3-40-1 (w-1 nb-5); Croft 22-5-56-3; Ramprakash 1-1-0-0.

Umpires: A J McQuillan and S J Tausel

n Shane Warne's long-awaited comeback to first-class cricket was delayed yesterday because of rain. The Australian leg-spinner, who had surgery on his shoulder in May, was due to return for Victoria in their Sheffield Shield match against Western Australia at the WACA in Perth, but the opening day's play of the four-day match was abandoned without a ball being bowled because of heavy showers.