Cricket / Fifth Test: England rediscover Emburey at 40: Atherton's squad for fifth Test at Edgbaston enlarged to include Middlesex off-spinner as counties are warned about behaviour

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The Independent Online
JOHN EMBUREY, who probably thought his Test career was over when he proved more of a danger to low-flying aircraft than India's batsmen last winter, was yesterday invited - amid no little confusion - to join England's squad for the fifth Test against Australia starting at Edgbaston tomorrow.

The 40-year-old off-spinner has been an important cog in Middlesex's County Championship challenge this summer (50 wickets at 20.28 apiece) and it was a mild surprise, given Edgbaston's reputation for helping the slower bowlers this season, when Peter Such was named as the only spinner in a 12-man squad on Monday.

However, it was considerably more of a surprise that England not only appeared to have no idea about the likely state of the pitch, which is bald and dry, but also that they had not made plans for a back-up spinner when they chose their squad on Sunday night.

Keith Fletcher, the team manager, said that it took him '10 seconds' after seeing the pitch to realise that there had been a cock-up in selection ('it will turn from the start,' he said) which was a good deal quicker than the four hours it eventually took the selectors to settle on Emburey in preference to either Philip Tufnell or Ian Salisbury.

Mike Atherton, the new captain, and Alec Stewart were involved in the immediate discussion, while Ted Dexter was consulted over the phone and Dennis Amiss was nowhere to be found. Quite why Amiss, a Warwickshire committee member, was seemingly unaware that the pitch was a potential dustbowl, was not apparent. Fletcher merely said: 'We were expecting conditions more conducive to seam bowling.' As for Atherton, he might already be wondering whether he has not so much taken possession of a plum job as left possession of his senses.

Having started arguing shortly after lunchtime yesterday, the selectors finally contacted Emburey at around five o'clock, at which point he had to dash off to Lord's to collect his kit before driving to Birmingham. It would be one of Atherton's braver decisions to leave him out tomorrow morning.

Emburey's selection ahead of Tufnell and Salisbury (although the latter is still struggling for form after an early-season shoulder injury) is less an extension of the new-look youth policy than a case for ferrying extra supplies of Phyllosan into the dressing- room for Emburey and his old mate Graham Gooch.

However, what the selectors, and Atherton in particular, have done in picking Emburey is to re-emphasise how important they regard the morale factor that would result in two decent performances at the end of an otherwise inept summer. Emburey is in purely on form, and the presence of two left-handers in Australia's top order batting also makes two off-spinners a viable proposition.

Australia, however, are a side renowned for doing their homework, and in the likely event that they are thoroughly well aware that Emburey disappeared for 19 sixes in India (11 of them propelled by Navjot Sidhu) they are doubtless already kitting out their batsmen with false beards and turbans. If Emburey spots anything remotely resembling a Sikh, he may well keel over in mid run-up.

Australia's major concern, however, is in being able to pick both their own spinners and there will be some anxiety about Tim May, who has a hamstring problem, surviving a fitness test today. He is rated as slightly better than 50-50.