Cricket: Headley the first in line

Kent and Yorkshire seamers put winter frustrations behind them and set sights on Lord's; Stephen Brenkley says Gough's absence means an awkward balancing act for England
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IN a fair world the meeting to select England's squad for the Second Test might have been shorter than Shane Warne's run-up. For almost every session of the four days possible at Edgbaston the home side had the better of things. Any of the four results were conceivable going into the final day and if the draw was favourite an England victory was not far behind.

Time for no change. Unfortunately, an injury to the team's most threatening fast bowler, inflicted by his opposite number, means that discussions, instead of being over in a blink of the eyes, might have continued until they needed propping open with matchsticks. Darren Gough, whose index finger was broken by Allan Donald, will definitely miss the Test at Lord's which starts on Thursday and is not certain to be fit for the third match at Old Trafford a fortnight later.

On the face of it, there seems to be an automatic and immediate replacement for Gough. The Kent seamer, Dean Headley, was in the squad for Edgbaston and should still be next in the pecking order. Fate and fortune being what they are, of course, it is not quite so straightforward. There has not been much cricket since Edgbaston but there has been enough for several other seamers to warrant passing mentions and the odd one, such as Ed Giddins of Warwickshire, to be discussed somewhat more profoundly, as the selectors try to come up with an ensemble good enough to extend the number of England Test wins at headquarters. There have been but three in 14 matches there in the past 10 years.

Headley had a mixed tour of the West Indies as he sought to get to grips with Test cricket on pitches which ought to have encouraged him but merely stimulated him to waste too many new balls. He responded well to those setbacks at the start of this season and leads all other contenders in the averages. But he continues to be blighted by no balls. It was an irritation in the Caribbean which seemed to magnify any other shortcomings and there are few signs that he has shed the tendency.

In his Kent career Headley has played 58 first-class matches and bowled 221 no balls in 1,867 overs. This summer there have been 16 in 140 overs, roughly the same ratio. Perhaps he has come to terms with it, perhaps the knowledge that he is likely to overstep once every eight overs does not disturb his rhythm, but Test matches tend to be a different bag of balls altogether.

Doubtless, the selectors checked on all this before Edgbaston and Headley's status will be affected now only by the improved standards of others. Into that bracket, as usual, has come bounding Andrew Caddick. On the winter tour he was much more exasperating than Headley simply because so much more was expected of him. Too often his line was woeful. It was difficult to believe that he was the same bowler whose bounce and away swing gave several Australians the hurry-up last summer but even in adversity there were occasional high points. In Barbados, when England might have won but for rain there was one significant period when he bowled 14 overs for 11 runs.

No good judges doubt Caddick's ability, but if his heart is in the right place it frequently fails to give the impression of working overtime on behalf of the side. It may be a long time before he is forgiven for failing to take his opportunity as the spearhead of the English attack. Which will bring the conversation round to Giddins. His six wickets for Warwickshire on Thursday (for the second time this season) could not have been better timed.

Giddins now has 30 in the Championship at under 20 and that is a truly splendid comeback after his ban for failing a drugs test. He hits the pitch hard, he moves it away late. But suddenly poor Giddins appears to have been blighted by something else entirely. Gossip and rumours have been circulating about the legality of his action. He has never been called in a senior match (though apparently, there was an instance in a pre-season friendly a few years back) but this has not stopped the murmurings.

After all his travails Giddins, a convivial fellow, could have done without this and while it is the kind of innuendo that ought not to affect selectorial considerations it probably will. All those cameras now in use at Test matches will examine Giddins' delivery from every angle. They will delve into any nook and cranny to find cricks even if cricks do not exist.

One of the umpires at Lord's is Darrell Hair, the last man to call a bowler for throwing in a Test, when he no-balled the Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan seven times at Melbourne in December 1995. It is 38 years since anybody was called at Lord's. The match was between England and South Africa and the visitors' fast bowler, Geoff Griffin, was called 11 times. None of this may be of the remotest concern to Giddins but the selectors could decide to take the easy option.

Nods will be made in the direction of Chris Silverwood, who returned from a worrisome injury with a spell which yielded him five wickets on Thursday, fellow winter tourist Ashley Cowan, who is still off the pace slightly after injury, and the country's leading wicket-taker, another who hits the deck hard, Melvyn Betts of Durham.

Doubtless, the selectors will be grateful that there will be no need to extend their discussions to embrace the fourth seamer's role. Mark Ealham expunged some of the hastily expressed doubts about his position by taking five Leicestershire wickets in an innings for Kent on Thursday and increasing his tally for the season to six.

If he did not look like a first-change Test bowler in Birmingham, a job which was thrust upon him after Gough withdrew, that is because he is not quite equipped for it. But he is a worthy, deceptive all-rounder whose talents should not be dismissed lightly.

South Africa are thinking seriously of re-introducing their own somewhat larger and more illustrious all-rounder, Brian McMillan. He was once integral to their side but has not played a Test since January when he scored 87 not out in Adelaide before being injured while bowling. Australia hung on for a draw to win the series and McMillan was out of the game for the rest of the season. The international team learned to do with out him and he was an unexpected selection for the tour.

He played down his chances of a recall yesterday as the rain fell on Arundel and washed out the second day of the tourists' match against Sussex.

But this may have been squad correctness more than a reliable prediction. "I find it very hard to believe that the side will be changed after one Test match, unless it's going to be a raging turner and we play two spinners," he said. "But I have shown my fitness. If I'm not in this Test there's the next one."

McMillan would be worth watching. He is the most unrelenting of opponents, who is a master, albeit a 34-year-old one, of all of cricket's three skills. He is a staunch batsman, his bowling form looks to have returned and he is in the pea-shelling category as a slip catcher. He is also, as he described yesterday, the only cricketer to have played a reverse pull for six in an international match, a shot he executed in a one-day tournament in Kenya against Sri Lanka in September 1996. Now that would be worth seeing on its way into the new grandstand at Lord's. He will not, he was certain yesterday, be attempting to exhibit it though.

Nor will the England batsmen, unless they want to receive more selectorial discussion for the Third Test than they will have done for the Second.

Possible squad: Stewart (capt), Atherton, Butcher, Hussain, Thorpe, Ramprakash, Ealham, Croft, Cork, Fraser, Headley, Silverwood.