Cricket: Malcolm's brand of aggression appeals

Derek Pringle looks at the likely shape of England's squad for Thursday's First Test
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The Independent Online
If, as Nancy Astor once claimed, "The penalty of success is to be bored by the people that once snubbed you", England's trio of selectors will be getting a fearful ear bashing as different names get dropped with each tuppenceworth given. Among the myriad, however, it will be the name of Devon Malcolm, that will most catch the eye of David Graveney and his selection panel, when they meet up in Peterborough tonight to choose their squad for the First Test, which starts on Thursday at Edgbaston.

Although 34, Malcolm has been in terrific form for Derbyshire. So far he has taken 34 wickets in four matches. A call-up now, to partner Darren Gough, also in sparkling form, would surely continue the aggressive mood so crucial to last week's Texaco whitewash.

Test cricket is a vastly different game, however, and Australia, having recently beaten the West Indies and South Africa, are its undisputed champions. Changes are, therefore, inevitable as bustling one-day all-rounders make way for wise-headed specialists. Some, like the parting of the Hollioake brothers, are likely to prove unpopular, although with Dominic Cork still unfit, England will probably retain Adam as a batting all-rounder at No 7.

Who the specialists might be, particularly in the bowling department, is likely to depend on the condition of the Edgbaston pitch. In the previous two Tests there, the pitch unduly favoured pace bowling and both matches finished well inside the distance. As a result, Warwickshire, the pitch's custodians, were widely criticised and there is speculation that a slow turning featherbed is now in store.

This would suit Shane Warne and Michael Bevan, but not England, who through Graveney, have been seeking the relevant groundsmen's co-operation in producing the kind of slow seaming pitches Australia have so far struggled to find their feet on. The upshot is that the selectors will probably pick a 13 or 14-man squad to cover any uncertainties in the surface.

With Cork unavailable and Dean Headley unfit, the pace spearhead will almost certainly consist of Gough, Malcolm and Andrew Caddick. Gough, probably bowling at his very best, has long been respected by his Australian opponents. With Cork absent, he will relish the chance of once more leading the attack.

Caddick, if not enjoying the same start as the others, fully deserves a chance to build on his winter performances. Providing he can overcome an inferiority complex, his height and lift ought to make things uncomfortable for the Aussie batsmen.

That intriguing trio perhaps lacks the guaranteed accuracy of an Angus Fraser. The selectors might, therefore, include Mark Ealham, who would then compete with Adam Hollioake for the all-rounder's spot at No 7.

Before the one-dayers, you could have got long odds on Hollioake senior's inclusion in the Test squad. Had Cork been fit, it is unlikely he would have been mentioned, but such was Hollioake's authority and poise in the Texaco Trophy matches, that few would discard him now.

It is those self-same criteria that has made Robert Croft the No 1 choice as England's spinner. Croft's startling improvements have been such, that he could easily end up as the bowler Australia most fear. Being an aggressive bowler, Croft's first instinct is to attack. For that reason, he is more likely - should the need arise - to be partnered by Phil Tufnell than Ashley Giles. The former's stock bowling abilities more likely to appeal in a bowling line-up already overloaded with testosterone.

The batting, so positive in the one-day matches, is also likely to undergo a few alterations, with opener Nick Knight, despite making runs in the current round of Championship matches, likely to be dropped.

After compensating for his problems outside the off-stump in New Zealand, Knight has become susceptible to the ball swinging into him, something both Jason Gillespie and Mike Kasprowicz excel at. The choice of replacement will depend on whether Alec Stewart is happy combining the extra demands of opening the innings with keeping wicket. In the past, Stewart has been happy to do whatever has been asked of him, so he is unlikely to object should the selectors prevail upon him now.

If Stewart does open, either Nasser Hussain or John Crawley could move up to three. Both have filled the position before.With Graham Thorpe at four, that would leave a vacancy in the middle-order at five or six. Had he been in form, the temptation might have been to pick Graeme Hick. As it is Mark Ramprakash, recently given the Middlesex captaincy and with three hundreds to his name already, is the form horse and could well be given another chance.

Another in fine fettle is the Glamorgan opener Hugh Morris, whose solid temperament would sit well alongside Atherton's, should Stewart stay at three. At 33, Morris may just pip another left-hander Surrey's Mark Butcher, whose lack of recent cricket may go against him.

ENGLAND (possible; for First Test, v Australia, Edgbaston, 5 June): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart (wkt), N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, A J Hollioake, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R Caddick, D E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell, M A Ealham, M R Ramprakash, H Morris.

Derek Pringle on the magic of the Ashes, page 28