Cricket: Gillespie's pace should secure place

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The Independent Online
WITH NO Shane Warne to mesmerise England's batsmen, Australia have gone for pace to take advantage of the Brisbane and Perth wickets in the first two Tests.

Glenn McGrath and the returning Jason Gillespie hope to emulate Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, who terrorised England 25 years ago.

Gillespie, who got help from Lillee to remodel his action which had caused stress fractures to his lower back, looks like getting the nod over Michael Kasprowicz for the third fast bowler's place behind McGrath and Damien Fleming.

Australia's captain, Mark Taylor, who will be playing his 100th Test, is known to favour Gillespie's raw pace and aggression and Kasprowicz said after yesterday's net session that he would not be surprised to be carrying the drinks when the series starts tomorrow.

Ian Botham has warned Australia against writing off England and their suspect openers Mark Butcher and Mike Atherton.

Butcher's slump in form and Atherton's ongoing back problems have been highlighted leading up to the first Test, but Botham doubts the pair will be a weak link.

He believes Butcher will respond to the challenge despite scoring just nine runs in five innings on tour, just as Taylor overcame his form crisis which threatened his career last year.

"I'll just take you back to the series in England [last year], a lot of your so-called experts and ex-players were calling for Mark Taylor's head," Botham said. "They had that shoved back down their throats so I wouldn't shout too much about Butcher yet."

He also backed Atherton to fight through despite a degenerative back condition. "He's a world-class player and not many sides have got players of that sort of quality.

"He has had this back problem for quite a while so he knows what it's about and how it reacts and obviously he has declared himself fit and no one knows better than him."

Botham, who scored 5,200 runs and captured an England-record 383 wickets in 102 Tests, said England were capable of retrieving the Ashes with a side that was far more balanced than at any time in the past decade.

"I think the first blows are important," he said. "The side that can get on top in the first two days, it could well set the trend for the series. From England's point of view it's a much more settled side so that gives it a distinct advantage over the ones of the past few years."

n Australian Cricket Board officials are meeting to discuss whether Darrell Hair should stand in the Test series against Sri Lanka in January. The Australian umpire no-balled the tourists' off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing two years ago and he said recently that he was prepared to do so again.