Cricket / Third Test: The Gnome grows in stature as young lions raise spirits

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The Independent Online
THE 'Gnome' finally found his smile yesterday. After 10 months and six defeats as the England manager, Keith Fletcher yesterday celebrated 'my best day in the job' and admitted he owed it to the belated decision to put faith in youth.

'They have brought a breath of fresh air into the dressing-room and lifted the mood,' he said of Graham Thorpe, Mark Lathwell, Martin McCague, Mark Ilott and Nasser Hussain. The last two must have made a big impact because he then added: 'It is the best atmosphere I have known with Essex,' before hurriedly correcting himself to 'England'.

'I have got a smile on my face for the first time in months,' Fletcher added. 'I'd like to think this is a turning point. We have competed hard, which is something we have not done well for the last six months.'

Fletcher said England would look to score quickly this morning and have Australia batting before lunch. 'They have a good batting side, all of whom are in form, but it would be nice to see them under pressure for once. Hopefully they will crack.'

It was Thorpe's ability to bat in such situations that had earned him his place, said Fletcher, who added: 'He plays well under pressure, he often gets runs in big matches for Surrey. He is very tough mentally and proved what a good player he is.

'All the young lads have done very well. Perhaps you could say they could have come in earlier, but we had to give the others a chance. Graeme Hick batted well in India and Mike Gatting was never fully fit there.'

The only drawback in England's plan for an early-morning slog could be Thorpe's pursuit of a maiden Test century. 'I'm delighted to have played as well as I did, now I want to finish the job tomorrow - get a hundred and help England win,' he said.

The Australian manager, Bob Simpson, did not think there was much chance of the latter, admitting he was far more concerned about the fitness of Merv Hughes. 'I think we'll cope pretty well with saving the game if the pitch stays as flat as it is,' he said with some smugness. Simpson admitted he was seriously worried about Hughes's groin injury. He will not bowl today and although Simpson said he expected he would be ready for the next Test, at Leeds on 22 July, it will be a couple of days until they really know.

With McDermott already out, the news is a serious blow as Australia's back-up bowling is weak. More reasons to be cheerful for the 'Gnome' . . .