Cricket / Fourth Test: Headingley call for Mallender

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HEADINGLEY is the one Test match ground that demands a horses-for-courses policy, and despite the suspicion that England's attack would have a donkey derby look about it anywhere else, the selectors have recognised that this is one instance in which lack of variety becomes a virtue.

The accent is on nagging medium-pace accuracy for the fourth Test, which starts on Thursday, virtues which instantly ruled out Devon Malcolm, and as wrist spin on this ground is considered to be as practical as a woolly hat in the Sahara, Ian Salisbury has also been omitted. The specialised nature of the selection is such that, even if England were to square the series here, Malcolm and Salisbury will probably return for Harry Brind's bleached white trampoline at The Oval.

Alec Stewart has been handed the wicketkeeping gloves, a decision which will not give him a great deal more pleasure than Jack Russell, and Ian Botham's sun-glasses would have to be of the rose-tinted variety for him to believe that his omission from the 13-man squad does not have a terminal ring to it.

According to Ted Dexter, Botham's non-selection for the Old Trafford Test was made on grounds of form rather than fitness, although it may have been the overall creaking and groaning coming from England's bowlers that told against him here.

If any one of the current crop of England bowlers were to leave their bodies to medical science, the will would be fiercely contested by the surgeons, and with Chris Lewis and Derek Pringle far from certain to last the full five- day course, the selectors presumably felt that Botham represented an unacceptable risk.

Botham, however, would have fitted in at No 7 better than anyone else named in this squad and when you examine the 13, it is hard to imagine who will play there. It would be an extraordinary decision to play an out and out specialist batsman, but the alternative is five identikit seamers, or four plus the left-arm spin of John Childs.

The latter option would make sense on any other ground, but recent history suggests that when an England spinner drives his sponsored car into Headingley, normal procedure is to keep the engine running. England usually have a specialist slow bowler available, but have not played one in any of their last three Leeds Test matches.

Neither, come to that, have the opposition (the West Indies, twice, and Australia) and whichever permutation Graham Gooch finally comes up with next Thursday morning, it is a decision likely to have caused him as much of a headache as opting to make himself available for this winter's tour to India.

It is not inconceivable, if England field first, that Stewart will end up at No 7, although if it is to be seven batsman, the most likely candidate is Mark Ramprakash.

Ramprakash has every reason to be bewildered as to the qualifications required for being picked for England on a regular basis. He got an unplayable ball in the first Test, was omitted from the second to accommodate a bowler (Malcolm) and ignored for the third in favour of a different batsman, and not one in particularly good form at that, Michael Atherton. Now he is back again, either to fetch and carry as dressing-room bar steward, or to bat in no man's land.

The solution for making sure you are selected to play in every game appears to be to fail consistently to do what you have been picked to do (score runs), be available to do what you rarely ever do for your county (bowl off-spin), and take a lot of catches. By that definition, Graeme Hick is undroppable.

The interesting bowling selection is Neil Mallender, of Somerset, who came close to playing a couple of times through injuries on the winter tour to New Zealand, and is an imaginative pick for this match. At any other venue, though, you would be inclined to take a look at England's bowling line-up and burst into tears.

KEITH FLETCHER'S appointment as England's manager-elect was the clinching factor in Graham Gooch's decision to tour India next winter. 'Keith is the overriding reason I want to go,' Gooch, who will be 39 on Thursday when England start the fourth Test against Pakistan, said. 'He's my mentor, the only official captain I've ever had at Essex. He has been the biggest influence on my career. India will be his first tour as team manager and I think I'd regret it afterwards if I didn't go with him. But this is definitely my last trip.'