Cricket / First Test: Face to face in arrival of the invisible men: New Zealand may be bland but England wear their own unfamiliar look thanks to a new chairman of selectors

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THE first Test match of the summer gets under way here today, and if there is an appropriate word to describe the nation's sense of anticipation for this three-match series, the one which springs least readily to mind is agog.

New Zealand have now been travelling England, more or less incognito, for a month and have such an invisible profile that their alternative title could well be the Claude Rains XI. However, the absence of hype at least means that public expectations are not pitched too high and we may yet be pleasantly surprised by a highly combative series.

Even so, it is perhaps just as well that Ray Illingworth has swept into office by scouring the country (or at least that part of the country between Bradford and Barnsley) for new talent. New Zealand's impact on the public is such that autograph hunters will be hesitating outside the visiting dressing room for fear they might have mistaken the opening batsman for the coach driver, but an unfamiliar face or two in the home team will certainly have given the series an extra focus.

A month or two ago, Craig White was almost as well known in England as, er, Gavin Larsen, but this morning he will not so much be tying up his laces as becoming the latest cricketer to try on the slipper in England's Cinderella- like search for even an approximate fit for Ian Botham's old shoes.

England have operated a six- batsmen policy ever since Botham began letting out the elastic on his flannels, but the 24-year-old Yorkshireman is perceived by Illingworth to have the all-round ability to go in to bat with only five specialists above him, and to take Test match wickets with his whippy medium pace. Illy's well-merited reputation as a shrewd old judge will never have had such scrutiny.

White's inclusion, however, appears to have caused a bit of a stir in Australian cricket circles, where they are beginning to wonder (and they are not the only ones) how much longer the lion, as opposed to a kangaroo or a springbok, will remain an appropriate emblem for an England cricket sweater.

As was the case when Martin McCague made his debut last summer, White's cricketing education has largely been Australian based, and not only has he played for Australia's Under-19 side, but he has also been schooled at the Cricket Academy in Adelaide.

The Australians are thought to be planning to lobby the International Cricket Conference summer meeting in July to make it harder for people to switch allegiances, although White himself is in no doubt where his loyalties lie. 'Whenever I've watched England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, I've always worn an England T- shirt and my parents (who live in Bendigo) always wanted me to come back and play for Yorkshire.'

Andrew Caddick represented New Zealand at youth level and apart from White and McCague, there are a number of other Australian-reared English qualified cricketers - Alan Mullally, Jason Gallian, Duncan Spencer - with international aspirations. The New Zealand captain and horse racing devotee, Ken Rutherford, said yesterday: 'I bet he knows more about the Melbourne Cup than he does the Derby.'

However, the Test and County Cricket Board should be firmly on its guard against any further erosion of the identity of the England team.

Another name Illingworth more or less plucked from thin air (not to mention thin evidence) is Richard Stemp - although if anyone can judge a spin bowler, Illingworth can. Stemp, though, is unlikely to play here given the groundsman's forecast for the pitch. 'A bit of a pudding,' was how Ron Allsopp described it yesterday.

England will therefore be tempted to play Devon Malcolm to see if he at least will be able to drag some life out of a slow surface, which means that Phillip DeFreitas is likely to be left out along with Stemp. Michael Atherton, though, was not as cheerily communicative as he usually is yesterday, which may or may not be unconnected to being asked to comment on teams handed to him by the chairman of selectors. 'Have you seen a lot of White, Mike?' 'Not much, no.'

Both captains, though, were not in total compliance with the general perception of an England pushover. Rutherford said: 'Traditionally we are great fighters and England will be under a favourite's pressure. A draw will be looked upon as a poor result for them.' Atherton concurred: 'Public expectation is high, and so is mine, but Test cricket is never a walkover and if we are below par we won't win.' However, England's odds shortened further yesterday with news that New Zealand will be weakened further by the absence with a hamstring injury of their one bowler of proven Test class, Danny Morrison. He is replaced by Heath Davis, whose bowling occasionally has more in common with Heath Robinson.

New Zealand's vice-captain, Larsen, plays his first Test after more than 50 one-day internationals, and the West Indian, Steve Bucknor, becomes the first overseas umpire to stand in a Test in this country.

ENGLAND (from): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, G A Gooch, R A Smith, G A Hick, C White, S J Rhodes (wkt), P A J DeFreitas, M C Ilott, A R C Fraser, P M Such, D E Malcolm, R D Stemp.

NEW ZEALAND (probable): B A Young, B R Hartland, K R Rutherford (capt), M D Crowe, S P Fleming, S A Thomson, A C Parore (wkt), G R Larsen, M N Hart, D J Nash, H T Davis.

Umpires: H D Bird, S Bucknor (Jamaica).

TV replays: M J Kitchen.

Match referee: C H Lloyd.