Cricket: Gough made to wait for England call

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IF THERE is any tinkering to be done, it will clearly be left to the morning of the match. The selectors, perhaps mindful that winning England sides are something of a rarity, have resisted the temptation to tamper with the one that beat New Zealand at Edgbaston two weeks ago. That means breathing space for Alec Stewart and more overs for Darren Gough, though at Scarborough for Yorkshire rather than at Lord's for his country.

Gough's return, despite his seven-wicket haul against Warwickshire last week, was never going to be rushed. Indeed, Nasser Hussain, continuing his so far impressive stream of soundbites, has stated that the priority with Gough is as much "next year, as next match". That means that barring any last-minute injuries, England's bowling attack will remain unchanged from the one that prevailed in the first Test.

Perhaps it was his early career as a phantom leggie in the under-15s, but Hussain has, so far, done the right thing by all of his bowlers.

Understanding bowlers is something of an art and one that many captains struggle with. It is a weakness that can, in the long run, cost matches.

Speaking yesterday, the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, confirmed that he had been in touch with Gough as well as Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire coach, monitoring the situation on a daily basis.

"Understandably, Darren has been stiff between games," revealed Graveney. "Leaving him out was not trying to absolve ourselves from making a difficult decision. But with his injury record, we felt it prudent for him to get some more overs in the bank.

"In Test matches you can find yourself bowling for two consecutive days. We didn't think that a few short spells on a bowler-friendly pitch at Edgbaston was a sufficient test."

For Stewart, the last month has not been so much a test as an ordeal. England captain until Hussain's appointment in mid-June, Stewart is normally so focused on his cricket that nothing can deflect him from the goals he sets himself. Shorn suddenly of both captaincy and wicketkeeping, Stewart's equilibrium has been upset. Suddenly, the least expendable member of the side has become its most vulnerable, a situation not helped by his poor form with the bat.

Graveney feels it is only a matter of time before the player of old returns. "I don't think he has got used to his new status yet, and that is reflected in his cricket," he said.

His county, Surrey, have not helped Stewart by batting him hither and thither in the order. Keeping wicket and batting at six against Hampshire in their last game at Guildford was the last thing he or England would have wanted. His most pressing need is to score runs against the new ball, not to be a cheerleader in gloves who comes in to bat when the ball is old.

Unless mistaken, it was only last season that the counties agreed to assist England's interests. The goings-on at Guildford suggest differently and are merely further evidence, along with the return next season of a full blown Benson and Hedges competition, that it is the counties, and not the England and Wales Cricket Board who rule the roost.

As more and more of the pledges made in the ECB's blueprint "Raising the Standard" are reneged on, it looks very much like a case of widespread betrayal - or at least it does from the perspective of the players who now have four one-day competitions to look forward to next year.

Michael Atherton's unbeaten 268, in only his second first-class match of the season, will have pleased many, not least the player himself, who has endured a tortuous diagnostic process of trial and error over his problematic back.

Gallant returns from injury tend to happen in two stages. First there is the conquering, or in Atherton's case, the management of the problem in question. Secondly, there is the return to form after a lengthy absence.

In cricket the two are often linked which is why the double hundred, although prompting rabid speculation of an immediate Test recall by the more excitable elements in the media, are premature. The selectors, conscious of the way his condition fluctuated from day to day in Australia, will require further proof of recovery. South Africa in early November is where the eyes of significant parties should be fixed.


Second Test v New Zealand, Lord's, Thursday

Age Tests

N Hussain (Essex, capt) 31 40

M A Butcher (Surrey) 26 20

A J Stewart (Surrey) 36 87

G P Thorpe (Surrey) 29 54

M R Ramprakash (M'sex) 29 35

Aftab Habib (Leics) 27 1

C M W Read (Notts, wkt) 20 1

A J Tudor (Surrey) 21 3

A R Caddick (Somerset) 30 22

A D Mullally (Leics) 30 14

P C R Tufnell (Middlesex) 33 35

D W Headley (Kent) 29 13