Cricket: Selectors to keep faith with England

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLAND selectors, at last able to bask in some late summer glory, look certain to announce an unchanged 12 for the final Test against South Africa at Headingley next Thursday. With the series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, England know they have the team and the momentum to win a series that only a month ago looked beyond them.

The optimistic mood has also manifested itself in ticket sales. After a slow start, interest has reached the point where there are few tickets left for the Friday and Saturday, traditionally the best attended days.

If the public has any misgivings about going to watch live cricket, it has probably less to do with England's inconsistency than the alcohol ban placed on the Western Terrace by the Headingley authorities and Yorkshire police.

A perennially rowdy part of the ground, the specific ban on the Western Terrace - spectators in other areas will be allowed to bring in four cans per head - is more likely to incense than control. Although unpopular, bans on alcohol should be total and this one is needlessly provocative.

Aside from the petulant comments of Chris Lewis, this has been a good week for English cricket. First, Alec Stewart and his men showed they had it in them to win the tough sessions to beat South Africa. Then the counties, disregarding their own requirements, agreed to rest some of the weary warriors who had accomplished it.

This kind of co-operation between the counties and the selectors - who will also announce an English Counties side to play South Africa in a one-day match before the Triangular tournament - has long been seen as a necessity to furthering England's cause on the pitch. A goodwill gesture at present, such assistance from the counties would surely dry up under a two-divisional system, unless Test players were contracted centrally to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

So far, refusals to rest players by the counties have been negligible, though it has mainly been batsmen rather than bowlers (not something intended when it was first mooted) who have tended to benefit most. Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain are the batsmen to have been given the "excuse" note. Both are deserving cases after playing long innings under great pressure, efforts which would have left them mentally as well as physically drained.

The pair also suffer from bad backs: Atherton's is a long standing problem, while Hussain's is a recently diagnosed stress fracture, possibly a legacy from his days as a leg-spinner. Both complaints will benefit from a few days' rest.

Angus Fraser, the other vital cog in England's win at Trent Bridge, is also putting his feet up. Fraser bowled 54 overs at Trent Bridge and the tall seamer will surely be grateful that Middlesex have given him the match against Sri Lanka off. One of the reasons Fraser bowled so much, apart from the fact that he looked like taking wickets, was the profligacy of Ian Salisbury, back in the Test side with a remodelled action.

Clearly nervous, Salisbury was exposed by Hansie Cronje, who cleverly never allowed him to settle. In some ways Cronje's actions were probably a sign that South Africa rate Salisbury who, despite improvements for Surrey this season, was done few favours by the well-grassed nature of the pitch.

In the meantime, Salisbury should be persevered with, though Headingley's traditional seamer-friendly surface may mean that Alan Mullally may finally reap the rewards of his steady improvement this season. A four-pronged seam attack is not out of the question at Headingley. Not long ago it was the norm, and only the fact that this Test is in August, not June, will make the selectors pause for thought.

In any case, with both Mark Ramprakash and Graham Hick able to bowl decent spells of off-spin, an attack of four front-line seamers plus Andrew Flintoff is not out of the question. As always, much will depend on the pitch and weather forecast nearer the time.

A big, burly young man, Flintoff enjoyed a happy debut. Apart from the excitement of a first Test win, the Lancashire player did not look out of place. Indeed, if he can bring some of the discipline extant in his bowling to his batting, and become more selective over which ball to clout, the ripples accompanying his jump into the deep end may yet reach wave proportions.

The fearlessness of youth is something Hick only ever felt prior to his England career, which was given another chance to flourish at Trent Bridge. In good form for his county, Hick's comeback knock was brief, as he bottom- edged an attempted pull shot on to his stumps.

An unfortunate dismissal in anyone's book, Hick was nevertheless treated to a vicious, personal and wholly unjustified attack in a popular Sunday paper. Providing he is picked, there will never be a better time or place than Headingley next week for Hick to make his reply.

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