Cricket: Fletcher gets early call for final Test selection panel

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND HAVE reacted to their third Test escape by drafting in Duncan Fletcher, their coach-in-waiting, to help avert a series defeat against a New Zealand side acknowledged to have the upper hand in the four-Test series.

Fletcher, still under contract to Glamorgan and not due to become England coach until 1 October, will advise on selection for the final Test at The Oval, starting on Thursday week.

The move follows a meeting in Manchester on Sunday night in which Fletcher, the England captain Nasser Hussain and David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, were invited to join the top brass from Lord's to talk through England's present predicament. Should they lose to New Zealand at The Oval, they will slip to the bottom of the unofficial world rankings.

The dinner summit was chaired by Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who was accompanied by the management advisory committee chairman Brian Bolus and Simon Pack, the international teams director. It is clear that the drafting-in of Fletcher came as a direct result of their talks. The Zimbabwean will play no part in coaching the side before the final Test but will have a major say in who is picked for what could be a radically changed line-up.

Last night Mark Butcher, who stood in as captain at Old Trafford while Hussain recovered from a broken finger, admitted England were lucky to be heading for the final Test still at 1-1. "To be honest we probably did not deserve to be reprieved here but sometimes you need a bit of luck and we'll take it," he said. "We still think we can beat New Zealand over four matches and win the series but we will have to improve our performance by a great deal. But fortunately it is still 1-1 so we can still do it."

He said that the mood in the England dressing room had descended to a new low following their defeat at Lord's in the second Test. "What is plain for everyone to see is that the confidence levels in the two units are very different," he said. "You can tell a side that is on the up and you can tell one that is licking its wounds a bit. It is not good enough to be playing the way we are and we understand that."

Butcher, struggling with his own form, accepted that his one-match stint as captain could be followed immediately by his axeing from the side. "It could very reasonably be me that finds himself left out," he said.

He hoped New Zealand might find it "deflating to go away empty-handed having come so close to winning" but Stephen Fleming, the Kiwis' captain, said his side would approach the series decider full of confidence, aware that they could by now have been 3-0 up. "But for a couple of sessions in Birmingham we could have won the first Test and had we had full days on Sunday and Monday here I feel we would have won," he said.

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