Cricket / Fifth Test: Hidden forces a potent threat

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The Independent Online
WHILE it was the failure of the batsmen on Thursday that put England into their present predicament, there was something almost equally gloomy about the way in which Australia's last four batsmen flourished on Saturday.

Going into a Test match with only four bowlers is cricket's equivalent of walking on a tightrope. If it comes unstuck, as it did then, there is nothing to fall back upon except the ground.

Even if Mike Atherton agreed to this flawed tactical approach, one could only wonder how much his hand was forced over the individual selection of the bowlers. It is difficult to believe that he would have opted for the inclusion of Devon Malcolm, or the omission of Steve Watkin.

Test crowds always rattle with gossip and the most bizarre piece of tittle tattle came when a good source assured me that Martin Bicknell won the final bowling place because his batting was of more consequence than Watkin's. It is a reflection of what has been going on for much too long that it is impossible to disbelieve this.

The selection upon which I would be most interested to hear the captain's views was that of Mark Ilott. Last winter the selectors chose a young man called Paul Taylor, who also bowls left arm over the wicket, to go to India but he has been allowed to disappear almost completely from sight since his return.

Taylor has been able to do the one thing which Ilott cannot and which marks out the normal run-of-the- mill left-arm seamer from those who are likely to make an impact at this level, namely the ability to move the ball back into the right-hander.

County players all over the country in recent weeks, when asked if Taylor or Ilott is the better bowler, have almost unanimously given the verdict to Taylor - a view which cannot have escaped Atherton. Ilott's Essex connections almost certainly gained him his original selection; if they are responsible for his retention it shows what Atherton may be up against and that Graham Gooch's should therefore be the first of many important departures.