Cricket: Rouse-hunting season begins

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The Independent Online
If the future of Mark Taylor rides on what happens when the first Test begins tomorrow, he will not be the only man at Edgbaston feeling under pressure. Under almost as much scrutiny as the Australian captain's performance will be that of the Warwickshire groundsman, Steve Rouse.

Two years ago, after the West Indian fast bowlers crushed England inside three days on a pitch that could have been prepared expressly for them, Rouse was subjected to a barrage of criticism, the intensity of which might have been duplicated after last summer's abbreviated Test against India, which ended on the fourth day, had England not won.

It has brought the Birmingham ground's immediate future as a Test venue into question and Rouse knows that if he fails to deliver a satisfactory surface this time his job could be on the line. The problem for Rouse is that he is working for more than one master, and what is satisfactory for one is not necessarily so for the other.

"The England team would love to bowl the Aussies out in three days. They would like nothing better than for me to leave a bit more grass on and as much pace as we can get," he said. "But the ECB want it to go the distance and there is no way we can afford to have it over by Saturday."

After looking at Rouse's handiwork yesterday morning, England's selectors decided to omit Middlesex's Phil Tufnell, who played in all five Tests in Zimbabwe and New Zealand, from Thursday's 12, happy that one spinner would be enough.

"Nobody wants to be under 12 months of pressure with the ECB saying that if you don't get it right you're on your bike," Rouse said. "You don't like to show it but the criticism hurt quite a bit and the only way to prove people wrong is to produce a good one.

"This is renowned as a swinging ground and if there is a bit of juice in the pitch the ball may well dart around a bit on the first morning. But I think there'll be something for the batter as well as the bowler. We all want to win the match, but not by cheating."

The Australians, meanwhile, beginning to understand the climate in which England normally find themselves on tour, concentrated on rebutting the latest volley from behind their own lines. The former captain, Ian Chappell, branded the current Australian selectors "the worst in my time" and accused them of picking the side "in the best interests of Mark Taylor rather than the whole team."

However, the current vice-captain, Steve Waugh, confirmed that there was no question of Taylor stepping down. "He is in the side and that's that. We have announced it so that there will not be 3,000 more people asking the question."

n The former Warwickshire all-rounder Paul Smith has been banned for 22 months for taking drugs, including cocaine. He will still be allowed to play for Berkswell in Warwickshire league cricket, but has abandoned plans to play Minor Counties cricket for Shropshire.

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