Cricket: Headley is primed to overcome Lord's jinx

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IF PREDICTABILITY is thought to play into an opponent's hands, then England's squad for the Lord's Test will not give South Africa cause to chew their nails. After a selection meeting conducted by telephone, the necessary but minor tinkering brought about by Darren Gough's injury means that Dean Headley will play, leaving Chris Silverwood, the only addition to the squad that assembled at Edgbaston a fortnight ago, on standby as 12th man.

As a member of England's team since his debut last summer, Headley's chance at Gough's expense was both expected and just. Less clear cut was the selection of Silverwood, who held off close challenges from Ed Giddins, Melvyn Betts and Andy Caddick, all recently amongst the wickets.

"The weather so far has been conducive to swing and seam bowling and there were a number of candidates," said chairman of selectors David Graveney. "Silverwood was involved over the winter and started the season well. There was a pause for injury, but as his 5-13 against Hampshire shows he is in prime form and he fully deserves to be involved."

In fact, only the relatively mediocre bowling of Mark Ealham and Robert Croft provoked any kind of discussion. With continuity thought to be the key to confidence, both are again included, though Ealham will resort to the role of fourth seamer and not first change, as he was once Gough had fractured his finger.

Apart from last year, when the euphoria of beating Australia in the first Test caused England's selectors to announce an unchanged team, naming the playing 11 this early, is not usually the done thing. For one thing the pitch has not yet been assessed, though as David Graveney pointed out, the recent rain has meant that a dry surface, and thus the need for another spinner, are not anticipated.

"It has been a difficult season so far for groundsman," Graveney said. "The weather has not allowed them to prepare pitches as they normally would. I just hope next Thursday's toss won't be a decisive one."

If England's record at Lord's is anything to go by, the threat of a decisive toss is nothing compared to the Lord's bogy that normally sees England being forced onto the back foot for the remainder of the series. Last year, Lord's again proved the pivot on which the series swung away from England.

Although the match was drawn, the momentum England had garnered from their storming win in the first Test, was stopped dead in less than two hours by Glenn McGrath, who took 8 for 38, as England were bowled out for 77. With England's old frailties ruthlessly exposed, Australia were lifted.

"We are aware that Lord's nearly always seems to be a source of inspiration to visiting teams, and we know we'll have to raise our game," said Graveney. "We were taught a lesson last year by Australia, so while we are encouraged by what happened at Edgbaston against South Africa, we shall not be complacent."

Nor surely will South Africa, whose belief that they will not bowl as poorly as they did a fortnight ago, is evidenced by their continuing policy of resting Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. At Edgbaston, both bowlers lacked rhythm, which is usually a sign that perhaps both are jaded or carrying niggles, neither of them particularly easy things to shake off.

If there is an instant elixir for run down opponents, however, Lord's usually provides it. Alec Stewart, now an MBE, has so far been given glowing plaudits for his upbeat and positive leadership. Unless he can conquer both Lord's and South Africa, the good notices will soon dry up and England instead of setting the pace for the rest of the summer, will be back chasing shadows.

ENGLAND 12 (For second Test against South Africa at Lord's on Thursday): M A Atherton (Lancashire) Age 30 Tests 80; M A Butcher (Surrey) 25, 11; N Hussain (Essex) 30, 30; A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt, capt) 35, 76; G P Thorpe (Surrey) 28, 50; M R Ramprakash (Middlesex) 28, 24; M A Ealham (Kent) 28, 7; D G Cork (Derbyshire) 26, 20; R D B Croft (Glamorgan) 28, 12; D W Headley (Kent) 28, 9; A R C Fraser (Middlesex) 32, 39; C E W Silverwood (Yorkshire) 23, 1.