Cricket Ramprakash may hang on to his place

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The Independent Online


On the basis of if it works, don't change it, tomorrow the selectors should name the same squad for the third Cornhill Test match starting at Edgbaston on Thursday. England's victory at Lord's charged the team, and the country, with such spirit that it might seem both churlish and unwise to tamper.

Not that Raymond Illingworth and his fellow selectors Fred Titmus, David Graveney and the captain, Mike Atherton, are ever likely to be accused of sentimentalism. Whatever discussion does take place will revolve around the last batting place, occupied by Mark Ramprakash at Lord's, and the last bowling place, held by Richard Illingworth. Ramprakash is the man in danger, having raised 22 runs in two Tests and having collected a pair in the second.

Yesterday, by way of insurance, he took his innings against Surrey at Lord's to 214, the second best of his career.

That performance, like England's at Lord's, does require careful evaluation. Ramprakash scored his runs from a pitch with one short boundary on a mostly friendly surface and fast outfield against a Surrey attack that would have to be described as limited and which included a 17-year-old debutant fast bowler, Alex Tudor.

Ramprakash batted beautifully, hardly lifting the ball in more than seven hours. Of his quality there can be no question; he is also a high-class fielder. What is suspect is his temperament and nerve.

What may save him is that his obvious replacement, John Crawley, has not been a heavy scorer at county level. There are other fringe candidates, Alan Wells and David Byas among them, Wells because he deserves the chance and Byas because he is left-handed, is the first to 1,000 runs, and is a powerful player of fast bowling as well as being a good close catcher.

The all-round form of David Capel and the successful promotion of the off-spinner, Paul Weekes, to opening bat by Middlesex will also have registered, although neither player seems likely to reach consideration this time around.

Illingworth's place seems secure - he seems to be the one spinner, John Emburey apart, that the selectors feel they can trust to contain one end while the seamers rest in turn. Who knows, somewhere in this series there may appear a pitch that turns.

With Alec Stewart now apparently pleased to both open and keep wicket, that particular bone can be buried for a while. Also interred is the four- bowler theory. Illy was adamant on this point at Lord's: "When they can find four bowlers who will guarantee me 20 overs each a day, then I will be satisfied with four bowlers".

Called off is the desperate search, too, for the all-rounder. Four of the five bowlers at Lord's, Dominic Cork, Darren Gough, Peter Martin and Illingworth can bat well enough, at least in a defensive mode, to make up for the legendary Test all-rounder at No 6. Both Cork and Gough have swung the bat efficiently enough to have won one-day games, and both are young enough to learn and improve with experience.

There remains a discussion on past and future. The win at Lord's needs to be put into context. Atherton won the toss and had first use of a pitch that was decidedly dodgy on the second day, when the West Indies batted first and was deteriorating again when they batted last.

Cork's excellent bowling debut was fortuitous in that he did have the wind, the pitch and the slope all in his favour, as he admitted. Such advantages are unlikely to be repeated at Edgbaston. Could there, in these circumstances, be another spinner in the squad? Shaun Udal should be top of the list.

ENGLAND SQUAD (probable): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart (wkt), G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R A Smith, M R Ramprakash, D G Cork, D Gough, P J Martin, R K Illingworth, S D Udal, P A J DeFreitas.