Cricket: Malcolm bounces back as England try to keep pace: Gatting covers for Gooch as selectors do their level best to go for broke in the third Test against South Africa. Martin Johnson reports

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The Independent Online
IN TIMES of stress, England's selectors are traditionally more inclined towards the battle-scarred warrior than the new recruit. Old soldiers never die, they sit by their mobile phones waiting for a call from Raymond Illingworth.

Yesterday, with England needing to win the third and final Test to square the series, the phone rang for Mike Gatting and Devon Malcolm. Gatting will only play in the unlikely event of Graham Gooch failing to shake off the hamstring tweak he sustained at Headingley, but Malcolm - a straight swap for Angus Fraser - is more likely to make the final XI on the bounciest Test pitch in the country.

Offering Malcolm a pitch ideally suited to him is usually dependent on him managing to locate its whereabouts on the day, but he is bowling pretty well for Derbyshire, and England are in any event obliged to take a risk or two.

If Fraser would run through a sightscreen for the cause (while Malcolm is not always certain to hit one) it is no bad thing for this lion-hearted performer to take a rest, and a seat will already have been reserved for him on October's flight to Perth. To come back as he has from his debilitating hip injury has been a stoical effort, but the old snap is not quite there at the moment, and Malcolm's extra pace is a logical choice.

Gatting is recalled for the first time since being dropped after making three single-figure scores in the opening two Tests against Australia last summer, and it is deserved enough for his expression on hearing the news to have been a good deal less comically bemused than it was when Shane Warne spun one almost twice Gatting's width to rattle his stumps in the Old Trafford Test.

His selection also means, in all probability, that Gatting will return to Australia for the first time since he led the side to a 2-1 Ashes victory in 1986-87, since when England have been hammered out of sight in three consecutive series, and Gatting has been involved in more controversy than (and this is saying something) he has had hot dinners. With Gatting and Philip Tufnell in the squad, Michael Atherton will once again assume choirboy status.

However, it is quite conceivable that neither Gatting (a decision on Gooch will not be taken until the morning of the match) nor Tufnell will be in the final XI on Thursday. 'The ball wouldn't have turned in a week,' Illingworth said yesterday, recalling last year's victorious Oval Test against Australia.

This rather overlooks the fact that Shane Warne and Tim May took wickets even if Peter Such did not, but it does suggest that - if the pitch is much the same - England might go in with an all-pace attack, with only Graeme Hick to call upon to purvey the twiddly stuff.

Tufnell, though, has enough variety to overcome a non-turning pitch, and England should perhaps be looking more towards omitting a batsman than their specialist spinner. However, the final two places are likely to be between Tufnell, Malcolm and Joey Benjamin, with Benjamin favoured to get in ahead of Malcolm if Tufnell plays.

'The ball usually swings at The Oval,' Illingworth said yesterday, and Benjamin swings it more than Malcolm. At 33, Benjamin is one of the oldest swingers in town, but age, in the chairman's words, 'is no barrier to an England place'. In fact, if it was not for his bad back, Illingworth might well have been in the squad himself.

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