Cricket: Illingworth opts for continuity

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The Independent Online
A single mobile-telephone call between Michael Atherton and Raymond Illingworth was all it took to persuade the England chairman to name an unchanged squad for the second Test at Lord's on Thursday. But while this is a luxury England deserve after their win in the last Test, for once it is the visitors, defeated again at the weekend by Derbyshire, who need to ring all the changes.

It is an unusual situation for England to be in as they have often been guilty of getting through almost as many players in the course of a series as Heinz have varieties - although there is plenty of the summer left.

In fact, not since the fifth Test in the West Indies in April 1994 - which followed the team's glorious win in Barbados - have England fought off the urge to tinker with their side.

Curiously, it is a habit that coincides with Illingworth's reign as chairman of selectors; a post he took over preaching cohesion and continuity. Since that Antigua Test, England have played 23 Test matches, and with Nick Knight's broken finger still an issue (Alec Stewart is on standby) there is no guarantee that sequence will not be extended to 24.

Having seen a specialist, however, Knight has declared himself fit. Following a frustrating start to his Test career, he is understandably reluctant to give a rival opening batsman a chance. All the same, it will be a shame if he has to compromise his brilliant fielding simply to keep his place. A break bad enough to miss two important games for his county cannot surely have healed enough in a week to be ready for a Test match.

It is not a dilemma that faces Kent's left-arm spinner Min Patel, who may lose his place to Peter Martin, who played in the equivalent fixture last year.

For one thing, Indian batsmen can play all finger spinners with a cocktail stick, and Lord's, despite the amount of spin bowling Middlesex have relied upon there over the years, does not usually favour that type of attack. In the last three Tests there, England's spinners have accounted for just six of the 58 opposition wickets taken, including last year, when pace - of one sort or another - accounted for all 20 West Indies wickets to fall.

That is why, unless Test pitches turn - itself a rarity - finger-spin is having a diminishing part to play, other than to give the other bowlers a rest. With their job solely to conserve runs, most now operate over the wicket into the rough - which favours left-armers and provides an ugly spectacle.

Patel's cause would be helped enormously if Atherton could rely on Ronnie Irani to bowl 15 tight overs a day. Unless he can gain a yard in pace, Irani must discipline himself as he would in a one-day game. Test matches - despite the slightly false impression created by a poor pitch at Edgbaston - are not all about attack, which is a point those in India's team not called Sachin would do well to contemplate.

England squad

Second Cornhill Test v India, Lord's, starting Thursday

*M A Atherton (Lancs) 28, 57 caps

N V Knight (Warwickshire) 26, 3

N Hussain (Essex) 28, 8

G P Thorpe (Surrey) 26, 27

G A Hick (Worcestershire 30, 43

R C Irani (Essex) 24, 1

R C Russell (Gloucs) 32, 45

C C Lewis (Surrey) 28, 28

D G Cork (Derbyshire) 24, 11

M M Patel (Kent) 25, 1

A D Mullally (Leicestershire) 26, 1

P J Martin (Lancashire) 27, 6


A J Stewart (Surrey) 33, 53

* Captain Wicketkeeper