IT IS difficult to know whether the World Cup warm-ups have done much to help the England selectors in their quest to find a settled opening pair.
Neither Alec Stewart or Nick Knight has done much in their three outings against county sides in the last five days. At least Stewart managed some time out in the middle against Hampshire yesterday, an hour and a quarter to be more precise, as he played a watchful innings of 20. Apart from edging his first ball tantalisingly close to first slip, he generally looked to have rediscovered some of his old touch.
Knight is a different matter. While the left-hander insists that he is feeling in good, out in the middle there was a very different impression being created. Far from being in nick, the opener looked to have played himself out of Friday's World Cup opener against Sri Lanka at Lord's.
The intemperate slash he aimed at the second delivery of his innings which nicked the ball straight to the Hampshire wicketkeeper Adrian Aymes was just what he did not need to convince the watching 3,000 or so, let alone the selectors, that all is well.
He has scored 17 runs in these three matches. With Stewart having struggled as well, there is added pressure to pick at least one opener who can score runs. The evidence being so thin on the ground, however, and given the management's obvious reluctance to ditch anyone at this stage, it is likely that Knight's previous form will have to be taken into consideration.
It has to be said that against Sri Lanka it is pretty impressive. In his last six one-day innings against the World Cup holders he has totalled 280 runs at an average of 46, including 94 at Lord's last summer.
David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, admitted: "Yes we do have one big problem," when referring to the thorny question of whether to bring Nasser Hussain in for Knight. But David Lloyd, the England coach, said: "Nick feels that his form is good. He is working hard, but he is getting out.
"In his own mind he is not down and he is of the opinion that a good score is around the corner. We can take all that on board.
"We have not had the starts we would have liked but our top two have done it in the past and we have to give them encouragement. It is not right to dismantle that at the minute."
Indeed the only question over Friday's line-up would appear to be whether they include a spinner. Robert Croft was omitted yesterday on a wicket which had the ball seaming around from the off. Alan Mullally's 4 for 20 and the economical Ian Austin (2 for 8 off eight overs) strangled the life out of the hapless Hampshire batting.
Only two players reached double figures, the worthy Aymes, and tailender Simon Renshaw. Aymes held up an end for almost 90 minutes but received no support, while Renshaw lasted for an hour and then rocked England by dismissing Knight before there was a run on the board. Thereafter though, Graeme Hick, in imperious form, dominated an unbroken 92-run stand with Stewart which lasted a little over 20 overs.
The second of Hick's two sixes thumping against the shatterproof Perspex window of the BSkyB commentary box, sending David Gower diving for cover.
Stewart did not appear to be too troubled by the fact that his 20 runs occupied 54 balls compared with Hick's 65 off 66 balls. What was important was that England had had three good work-outs. The bowlers are doing their stuff. The middle-order batting is comfortable but the case is still not closed on the openers.
n Rain prevented any play between Kenya and Glamorgan at Cardiff yesterday following Saturday's disappointment when only 10 overs were possible for the match between Glamorgan and Australia. "It has been so frustrating," said the Glamorgan secretary, Mike Fatkin. "Unfortunately there is nothing at all we can do about it, mainly because God isn't on our payroll."Reuse content