Cricket: Selectors may risk England's wounded trio

THE RESULTS of England's largest one-day experiment will essentially come to an end this morning at Lord's with the announcement of the 15- man squad for the World Cup and the tournament in Sharjah that precedes it.

At least two years in the planning, field trials have been conducted since December 1997. Yet if one or two red herrings have come and gone, the likelihood that this squad will contain three players with chronic back and hamstring conditions still leaves the selectors with plenty of scope for red faces.

Those currently afflicted, namely Michael Atherton, Graham Thorpe and Neil Fairbrother, are all likely to find themselves in the final 15. All are fine players and in the recent one-day series in Australia, England desperately missed Thorpe's knack for keeping the scoreboard moving by working the ball into gaps during the last third of the innings.

If picking three potential crocks appears somewhat Hoddle-like in its logic (mind you Eileen Drewery can, in theory at least, now gain access into the Lord's pavilion), the selectors, having first sought clarification over the rules regarding replacements, clearly believe the risk to be one worth taking.

Indeed, these are less rigorous than first thought. According to Michael Browning, the tournament organiser, all teams have until 2 May to replace any member of their squad, regardless of the nature of the injury. After that and during the tournament proper, any requests for replacements will have to go before a panel of doctors, who will decide whether an injury is new or related to an old complaint. If it is the latter, no substitutes will be allowed.

If selected, Atherton, Thorpe and Fairbrother will have to prove their fitness prior to Sharjah. It will be a tricky task. A gym and a few indoor nets cannot hope to replicate 10 cut and thrust one-day games and a month on the road.

With early season conditions during the World Cup likely to favour seam bowlers, there is scope for another specialist to back up Darren Gough and Alan Mullally. Given his willingness to operate in any circumstance, this will probably go to Angus Fraser, with Peter Martin getting an honourable mention in dispatches. Spin will take a back seat and providing Graeme Hick can back him up when necessary, Robert Croft will probably be the sole practitioner.

This will leave room to include several all-rounders, though the amount of choice now available is bewildering. Apparently, at the behest of the captain, Alec Stewart, even Chris Lewis's name was aired, the pertinent debits and credits tabled - an exercise, apparently, that still found him firmly in the red.

Over the past year Adam Hollioake's star has waned. One-day captain until last August, his form has subsided. Aside from Mark Ealham, who has been steady rather than spectacular, the Surrey captain was overshadowed in Australia by the 33-year-old Vince Wells. Unless Mark Alleyne nips in on the rails, Wells, who can also take over wicket-keeping tasks, now looks a certainty.

With Andrew Flintoff having recently laid waste to South Africa's second- string bowlers and Ian Austin, whose early season one-day bowling record is virtually unsurpassed, Hollioake has suddenly become surrounded by rivals. But if younger brother Ben can safely book his space on the couch to watch proceedings on television, the selectors will probably keep faith with him.

Similar goodwill, however, is unlikely to be extended to the England vice-captain, Nasser Hussain, whose one-day series in Australia while rarely less than promising. If he is left out, look out for a mushroom cloud somewhere in the vicinity of Chelmsford.

Possible England one-day squad: A J Stewart, N V Knight, M A Atherton, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, N H Fairbrother, V J Wells, M A Ealham, A J Hollioake, R S Croft, D Gough, A R C Fraser, A D Mullally, I D Austin, A Flintoff.

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