Cricket: New generation game for South African challenge: Different objectives for the England A openers

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The Independent Online
MIDWAY through the last official tour of South Africa by a representative English team, Adam Faith cancelled a series of concerts in Johannesburg after being refused permission to sing before multi-

racial audiences. For the England A party that arrived yesterday, 29 years and one rather more enlightened regime later, principles, happily, will take a back seat to the principals.

The ramifications could well prove more significant for South African cricket. As a guide to the depth of resources - the senior players will be in Australia for most of the duration - the next two months should certainly be instructive for the hosts, who will pit all seven Castle Cup provinces against Hugh Morris and his men as well as assembling a side for the five-day 'Test' at Port Elizabeth.

Of special interest to the visitors will be the development of Malachy Loye, Northamptonshire's stylish young middle-order batsman, and Martin McCague's efforts to reduce the strain on his suspect spine via a remodelled action. The most farreaching consequences, though, could stem from the three-way tussle to fill Graham Gooch's boots at the top of the order.

Of the contending trio, the captain himself is the best placed in the short term. After all, had the selectors not ignored all known precedent by nominating just two openers for the Caribbean, Morris would not now be embarking on what is effectively his third term as England A captain. As it is, a productive trip would confirm him at the head of the reinforcement queue alongside his deputy, Alan Wells.

Mark Lathwell's standing as the most gifted English batsman of his generation would have been plain to anyone who witnessed his bravura displays for Somerset last summer - before, that is, he was chosen for the third and fourth Ashes Tests when manifestly out of form. In the circumstances, scores of 20, 33, 0 and 25 scarcely constituted outright failure - Matthew Maynard averaged half as much yet still won a ticket to the Caribbean. By denying him the chance to get his feet wet in the Texaco Trophy, the selectors had contributed substantially to a severe dose of stage fright.

'I said at the time that it was probably too early to pick me, so I probably didn't go into the Tests in the right frame of mind,' Lathwell said. 'Nobody really tried to change me, but I altered my stance, which affected the way I played outside off stump. The papers and commentators were saying all sorts of things and, subconsciously, I may have tried to change to please them.

'I see this tour as a chance to get back a bit of confidence. I only scored one fifty after the start of June, and that had a lot to do with my loss of confidence in those two Tests. I want to start enjoying

myself again.'

To Phil Neale, the team manager, restoring Lathwell to rude health clearly represents something of a personal crusade. 'It's very important for me to get close to him, I need to get inside his head. It's very important for him and for the future of English cricket. I want to get through to him how well he can do, that he can enjoy his cricket again.'

John Crawley, conversely, simply oozes self-assurance. Granted, he may not possess Lathwell's joie de vivre, yet the technical authority and implacable temperament he has shown for Cambridge University and Lancashire - his 46.76 average is comfortably the highest in the party - merely underlined the sense of destiny apparent since he began sniffing out Mike Atherton's footsteps at Manchester Grammar School. The pair even obtained the same degree: a 2:1 in history.

Expectations have pursued Crawley every bit as hotly as they have Atherton, even if no one, to his knowledge, has actually labelled him a future England captain. 'I think Athers has had all that,' he reasons, the relief palpable.

SQUAD: H Morris (Glamorgan, capt), A P Wells (Sussex, vice capt), M P Bicknell (Surrey), D G Cork (Derbyshire), J P Crawley (Lancashire), R D B Croft (Glamorgan), A Dale (Glamorgan), D Gough (Yorkshire), M C Ilott (Essex), M N Lathwell (Somerset), M B Loye (Northamptonshire), M J McCague (Kent), S J Rhodes (Worcestershire), P M Such (Essex). Tour manager: R Bennett. Team manager: P Neale.

ITINERARY: December: 4 Transvaal Invitation XI (Alexandra); 6 Western Transvaal (Potchefstroom); 8 Eastern Transvaal (Springs); 10-13 Transvaal (Johannesburg); 15 Eastern Province Invitation XI (Zwide); 17-20 Eastern Province (Port Elizabeth); 23 Western Province Invitation XI (Langa); 26-29 Western Province (Cape Town). January: 1-4 Natal (Durban); 7-10 Northern Transvaal (Pretoria); 12 Griqualand West (Kimberley); 14-17 Orange Free State (Bloemfontein); 21-24 Border (East London); 27-31 SOUTH AFRICA A (Port Elizabeth).