Cricket: Ilott heads claims for a change of accent: A swing to the Essex-Surrey axis may be in order as England's selectors meet to discuss team for third Test

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The Independent Online
'WHEN Yorkshire are strong, England are strong,' Ray Illingworth asserted after naming the first team of his reign last month. Maybe so, few can remember, but it would appear the principle also works in reverse as both sides this week flirted with humbling defeats against Devon and New Zealand respectively.

The consequence is that the chairman of the selectors is likely to be not so much whistling down a coal mine as getting on the dog 'n bone and summoning a couple from the Smoke after tonight's selection meeting for the third Test starting at Old Trafford on Thursday.

It is too early to recall the archetypal cockney rebel, though Phil Tufnell must have been amused to see his successor, Richard Stemp, also falling foul of authority. But the old Gooch-Stewart, Essex-Surrey axis could be dusted down with recalls for Mark Ilott and Graham Thorpe.

Ilott is the obvious replacement for his fellow left-armer Paul Taylor, who only came into the Lord's squad as Ilott, 12th man at Trent Bridge, was injured. Taylor was unconvincing in his first home Test and, given the lack of faith shown in him by Mike Atherton at Lord's, and another selector, Keith Fletcher, in the past, could struggle to find support for a second game.

Another strong contender, only a local call away from Illingworth, is Yorkshire's Darren Gough, who suggested he was back to fitness with six wickets yesterday. But, given he has been out for five weeks, it would be asking a lot to expect him to make his Test debut after one match back.

Thorpe, who should never have been dropped in the first place, is likely to hold off John Crawley's claims to take over from the tortured Robin Smith. While Crawley looks the more classy prospect, and may well have a more impressive Test career, he has only played one innings of note this season (an admittedly magnificent 281) while Thorpe has reacted to his omission with a string of good scores.

Smith has rarely looked comfortable in the last two years and, having averaged 28 in last summer's Ashes series, was dropped for the final Test. It was his first axeing since making his debut five years and 45 Tests ago and he was immediately recalled for the West Indies. However, in 12 innings since, he has made 175 in one of them and 189 runs at 17 in the others.

It is possible that Thorpe and Crawley will get in with Graeme Hick also being dropped, but England will be wary of changing both middle-order batsmen and Hick probably did enough at Lord's to gain yet another chance.

Similarly Craig White, although his likely retention will create problems if Atherton wants to field two spinners at Old Trafford. Last year, Peter Such took eight wickets on his debut there but the wicket had been rain-affected and batsmen are likely to dominate.

With Tufnell now on trial in a cricketing sense only, Stemp may not have many more chances to make his debut and may not even get this one. Though the selectors are not taking a summons from the Test and County Cricket Board's disciplinary committee into consideration, they are taking note of Ian Salisbury's improved form.

With press and public distracted by Wimbledon, Colin Montgomerie and the World Cup, England avoided much of the customary criticism for their struggles at Lord's, but a repeat may not escape as lightly.

While Illingworth is unlikely to be portrayed as a Kiwi fruit, another poor display will raise grave doubts as to whether the state of the nation is any better than under Lord Ted. It is not in selection; only seven of the 13 at Lord's are certain of an invitation to Manchester.

ENGLAND 13 (possible): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, G A Gooch, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, C White, S J Rhodes, P A J DeFreitas, A R C Fraser, M C Ilott, P M Such, D E Malcolm, I D K Salisbury.

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