Cricket: I must play in first Test' says Taylor

Australia's beleaguered captain expresses determination to face England. Guy Hodgson reports
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The question of the week, at least for the Australian press, was all but answered at Bristol yesterday, when Mark Taylor, Australia's captain, said: "I think I've got to play in the first Test."

Taylor, under increasing pressure as he continues to show no form with the bat, claims he still has the support of his fellow selectors, the coach Geoff Marsh and his vice-captain Steve Waugh. "I want the support of the other selectors and I know them well enough as friends and from our working relationship to know they would tell me the truth and say 'you're not looking the part' if they felt that way. They haven't said it to me yet and I'm doing all I can to get my form back," he said after taking his overnight 19 to 30 in the drawn match against Gloucestershire. "I'd like to make the first Test on form alone, but other people like Michael Slater are not going to get the opportunity to make runs before the first Test."

The opener now has only a three-day game against Derbyshire in which to find fluency before the first Test at Edgbaston starting next Thursday. His innings yesterday, which included an edge short of the slips and a bat-pad appeal that went in his favour before he was trapped leg-before going back to Martyn Ball's off-spin, represented "a missed opportunity" to ease the pressure. "I'm hitting the ball better than I was in Australia and South Africa but the problem is mental. Perhaps I'm being a bit tentative. I just started to get positive today when I got out. It's not like 1989 and 1993 when I was in form. Now the pressure is on me."

Alan Crompton, the Australian tour manager, expressed sympathy for his captain. "We are disappointed for him," Crompton said. "We feel for him and we are willing him to do well. He is very popular with the team."

Especially with Justin Langer and Matthew Elliott whose form had also been causing concern. Both scored centuries in a second innings of 354 for 4 declared on a flat track that could have been ordered for batting practice. Langer's 152 was impressive, the innings of the day came from Elliott. The tall left-hander has been compared to Bill Lawrie but until this knock his tour had been more Hugh Laurie as he had managed just 19 balls for 11 runs. Elliott found his form yesterday, scoring 124 off 237 balls that included eight fours.

Elliott's form merely emphasised Taylor's lack of it and the captain's mood was hardly helped yesterday when a tabloid presented him with a huge piece of willow to protect his wicket. It was a joke, although he failed to see it. "I can laugh at myself," Taylor said, "but I don't think I need to stand next to a three-foot bat to prove it."

You can normally gauge a shock by the rumours that emanate from it, and when Australia were beaten 3-0 by England in the Texaco Trophy one rumour in particular suggested a high reading on the Richter Scale. "They've ordered the hotel minibars to be emptied," it said, conveying an image of secretive sorrow-drowning on a grand scale.

Ho, ho. Australians who cannot be trusted not to bar binge, a team so used to winning it has to hit the bottle in defeat. It smelt of a tour party in disarray. Give the Ashes to England now. Sadly for those who wear the Lion close to their hearts, the rumour was unfounded. The bars of Bristol had been emptied all right, but not of beer. The offending articles too potent to be left safely in the players' rooms proved to be packets of peanuts. The tinnies and the wines remained.

"It's very amusing," Crompton said, dismissing the whispers with a smile. "Our boys are committed, dedicated cricketers. There's no need to issue orders of that nature." It transpired it was the party's dietician who objected to the nuts.

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