Cricket: Hussain and Cork discarded

ENGLAND'S QUEST for the Ashes took a back seat briefly yesterday as the squad was announced for the Carlton United one-day triangular series that follows the Tests. The 23-man squad, which will be narrowed down to 18 in January, is pro-bably more noteworthy for who it excluded than for the names that made the rough cut. At a time when the first serious cricket of the winter is about to get under way, both Nasser Hussain and Dominic Cork will feel more than a little aggrieved at not having their air miles and visas extended.

The pair, along with Mark Ramprakash, who last played a one-day game for England in the West Indies eight months ago, and Alistair Brown, recently involved in Bangladesh, must now realise their hopes of being involved in next May's World Cup are fading. Unless they play in Sharjah, where another one-day tournament is scheduled for the end of March, the biggest show in cricket will be a spectacle rather than a personal experience.

The psychology surrounding the timing of the announcement is interesting and the selectors obviously wanted the trio - all key members of the Test side - to deal with their disappointment before the Ashes series began. Yet despite the squad containing new faces like Gloucestershire's Mark Alleyne and Leicestershire's Vince Wells, one cannot help feeling that the squad remains flexible. Unless the selectors remain inflexible, it is inconceivable that either Hussain or Cork would remain excluded should either have a superlative Ashes series.

The presence of Warren Hegg, another relatively new face to one-day cricket, is also revealing and suggests that the selectors consider recent back spasms experienced by Alec Stewart to be rather more serious than admitted. In the recent past it has been John Crawley who has been the back-up, though Hegg's presence will be seen as confirmation that Stewart's demanding triple role is finally catching up with him.

Indeed, David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, virtually acknowledged as much when he said: "Hegg's inclusion is a recognition of the heavy workload faced by Alec."

With England exiting the knock-out tournament in Bangladesh after one match, the selectors will have little to go on when they come to their final pruning session. Whether players like Alleyne, Wells and Dougie Brown remain more than token nods towards geography - see, we do come and watch Unfashionableshire - remains to be seen.

If the selectors are still keen to experiment in the build-up to the World Cup, there can be few more rigorous conditions to test untried players in than a 13-match series involving Australia - confidence high after their clean sweep in Pakistan - and the world champions Sri Lanka. England will need every scrap of home advantage come the World Cup, should they end up being overwhelmed here in January.

Ben Hollioake has been virtually ruled out of England's plans for the opening two Tests of the Ashes series. Hollioake, who turned 21 two days ago, has not featured in any of England's matches since straining his groin batting in the tour opener against an ACB Chairman's XI in Lilac Hill nearly three weeks ago.

Hollioake had his first bowl in the nets yesterday since sustaining the injury last week, but Stewart admitted that his Surrey team-mate was only operating at "around 70 to 80 per cent", so there was no choice but to overlook him against a strong Queensland line-up featuring eight international players.

And, with back-to-back Tests in Brisbane and Perth immediately following this match, Hollioake is resigned to a spell on the sidelines until England face Victoria at the MCG on 5 December. "We wanted to give our more experienced players plenty of cricket before the back-to-back Tests," said the tour manager, Graham Gooch. "It's bad luck on the lad, but we had to be realistic."

Graham Thorpe is also rested as a precaution after his first lengthy innings since his summer back operation, but all four senior seamers - Darren Gough, Cork, Alan Mullally and Angus Fraser - were in the 12-man squad. "We will look at the conditions in the morning but it is likely one of the seamers will be left out," Gooch said yesterday. "The pitch is likely to be a bit damp after all the rain they have had here, but it is much better to be here in the same environment as the Test in Brisbane and we have done everything right in terms of preparation."

England's Test warm-up match against Queensland at Cazeley's Oval here made a stuttering start this morning with the players retiring to the pavilion for 20 minutes after only five balls while the groundsman sought sawdust. The second ball of Darren Gough's opening over struck Matthew Hayden on the hand, and he retired hurt after Gough went sprawling delivering the fifth ball. The bowler led the retreat to the pavilion.

ENGLAND SQUAD (Carlton United one-day triangular series): Stewart (Surrey), Alleyne (Gloucestershire), Atherton, Austin (both Lancashire), Brown (Warwickshire), Crawley (Lancs), Croft (Glamorgan), Ealham (Kent), Fairbrother (Lancs), Fleming (Kent), Fraser (Middlesex), Giles (Warwicks), Gough (Yorkshire), Headley (Kent), Hegg (Lancs), Hick (Worcestershire), A Hollioake (Surrey), B Hollioake (Surrey), Knight (Warwicks), Martin (Lancs), Mullally (Leicestershire), Thorpe (Surrey), Wells (Leics).

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