Cricket: Lewis looms as second thoughts unsettle England

Stephen Brenkley says English cricket's tried and untrusted is in line for a recall

ENGLAND HAVE decided to avoid another month of suspense and conjecture about their World Cup squad. Instead of waiting until the end of March, as was their right, they will announce the names of the 15 players at Lord's tomorrow morning.

If this has curtailed the fun of armchair pundits and doubtless delighted the publishers of tournament programmes with early print schedules it has not diminished the scope for surprise. There was a broad hint that both Graham Thorpe and Michael Atherton might make the cut with the declaration that the party would be dependent on the fitness of some players. Other belated twists have also impinged on the selectors' deliberations, already confused by the poor form displayed in the later stages of the Australian triangular competition. At least two men not seriously in contention a fortnight ago have probably entered discussions.

One of these has played 53 one-day internationals and comes into the category of being tried and untrusted. The other has so far made no one- day appearances for England (which may or may not be sound preparation for the biggest tournament around) but is imbued with boundless potential and has hit prime form at the right time. Come in Chris Lewis and Andrew Flintoff.

It is difficult to imagine that both will be included. Since Lewis was not in the provisional party of 30 named only six weeks ago and Flintoff did not quite yet look up to international standard when he was picked for a couple of Tests last summer it might be considered unwise to pick either.

The case for Lewis - and if he is not exactly beloved of all the selectors he has influential support - is largely based on his additional speed with the ball allied to his potentially destructive batting and his indubitably supreme fielding. After all these years he can still be perceived as the classic limited-overs all-rounder. His figures do not entirely support this. His batting average is a mere 13, his highest score is 33. His 66 wickets have cost a fraction under 29 and he has conceded 4.34 runs an over. Not dire, but far from outstanding. Lewis has also let down himself and his team with his attitude. Over a long, tense competition that has to be borne in mind.

Flintoff, 21 two months ago, has been blazing his way across southern Africa for England A these past few weeks. He has dismembered bowling attacks with a combination of brute force and timing, not least last Thursday with a career best 145 against Gauteng. Those who have witnessed it have been awe-struck by his command. It would still be a tall order and impose an unfair burden for him to be expected to lift an ailing England senior side now.

None of this would have mattered much had England ended the one-day series in Australia as they started it. But that has promoted uncertainty. Adam Hollioake, for instance, did not have a good series. It has suddenly become fashionable to deride him.

The selectors have to find a balance between specialist cricketers and one-day specialists, crucial on May and June pitches. They have to get it right; the performances of the 15 named at 11am tomorrow are likely to determine the future prosperity of the game in this country. They have a month longer than they might have done to dwell on that.

Probable squad: A J Stewart (capt, wkt), N V Knight, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, N A Fairbrother, M R Ramprakash, A J Hollioake, M A Ealham, R D B Croft, I D Austin, D Gough, A D Mullally, V J Wells, D W Headley, A Flintoff.

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