Cricket: Positive Russell ready to reclaim his Test place

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Jack Russell can start his move back into the Test arena after a 17-month absence when he plays in the opening match of England's tour of the West Indies, starting here in Montego Bay, Jamaica, today.

The Gloucestershire wicketkeeper, who was dropped for the Pakistan Test at The Oval in August, 1996 and did not play in Zimbabwe or New Zealand last winter, or in the Ashes series last summer, looks to be among eight certainties for the first Test against West Indies at Sabina Park later this month.

He can begin to shed his frustrations in England's four-day match against Jamaica at Jarrett Park, in which the Test side will begin to take shape. After that, England have only a match at Chetwin Park, Kingston, against West Indies A before the serious business starts.

"I really hope I play in those two four-day matches," Russell said. "I've been out for 12 Tests and it really does seem longer than that. It gets harder every time when I'm left out, but I've remained positive and I've told everybody that I'll not finish up on 49 Tests."

Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Andy Caddick, Dean Headley, Angus Fraser and Russell can virtually rely on launching England's bid to win their first series in the Caribbean for 30 years. Mark Ramprakash, John Crawley and Adam Hollioake may be playing for one batting place, while Mark Butcher could occupy the No 3 berth and be a fourth seamer.

Butcher, who opened in five of the six Tests against Australia last summer, is seen as adept at playing the short-pitched delivery, and England have a history of including three opening batsmen in the Caribbean.

England will be doubly conscious not to be as slow off the blocks as they were in Zimbabwe last winter and Atherton recognises time is short and the opportunity cannot be wasted.

"You can't struggle in the early games and expect to turn it on in the Tests," Atherton said. "We've got to get our side right to give us a chance to strike early. Winning is a habit and we've got to get into it."

Atherton acknowledged that it would not be possible to give everybody an outing in those two games. "We have got to get into the groove as quickly as possible," he said. He thinks there are two ways of dealing with the challenge of ending England's long drought in the West Indies. "The record will either intimidate us or we will use it as an immense challenge. The whole squad can see a huge opportunity to be the first team to win in the Caribbean for a long time," he added.

Jamaica will pick from a squad of 14 and will be captained by Jimmy Adams and not Courtney Walsh. The fast bowler and former West Indies captain will sit the match out.