Cricket: West Indies to fill space with Adams' values: Atherton's thoughts in a spin

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WHILE England have already made enough hospital visits to congratulate themselves on the wisdom of bringing a 17-man squad, the West Indies - hitherto all quiet on the medical front - are now certain to be without Carl Hooper for the first Test match starting in Jamaica on Saturday.

The hyper-talented but under- achieving Guyanan missed his team's recent Red Stripe Cup match against the Leeward Islands with what began as a relatively minor back problem, but has told the West Indian chairman of selectors, David Holford, that he was unable to lace his own boots.

'He could not even bend over to do up his shoes,' Holford said, 'and we will have to have a scan to see exactly what is wrong. We can only hope that it is not a stress fracture, but we now have to look beyond the first Test before we can consider him again.'

Hooper's modest Test record (averaging 30 with the bat and 55 with the ball) does not make his loss any less encouraging for England's prospects, as he is impossible to bowl at on his day, and - Graeme Hick notwithstanding - he is the most reliable slip catcher on either side.

The West Indies have not yet considered looking outside their 13-man squad, as Jimmy Adams is considered Hooper's natural replacement. The Jamaican, who has signed for Nottinghamshire next summer, is an equally gifted cricketer, whose left-arm spin will now be available instead of Hooper's off breaks, and will further complicate England's apparent intention to play one of their spinners by virtue of the fact that he is left- handed.

Mike Atherton, the England captain, yesterday reconfirmed his instincts to go into the Sabina Park Test with a balanced attack, but while Philip Tufnell will certainly play in the first one-day international here tomorrow, it is by no means impossible that Ian Salisbury will be preferred for the Test.

Salisbury has taken 13 wickets in his two matches thus far (to Tufnell's six) and while he is almost always more expensive, he is also seen as the more attacking option. He also has a more equable temperament when lbw appeals fall on deaf ears and good deliveries get propelled out of the ground, and he also offers more with the bat and in the field.

England's fielding against Barbados could scarcely have been worse had they put out 11 garden gnomes, and it may yet be this aspect that tips the balance Salisbury's way. However, Atherton's major preoccupation between tomorrow's one-dayer and the Test revolves almost entirely around whether Angus Fraser and/or Andrew Caddick will be available to him.

Having returned to the England side at The Oval last summer after a two-and-a-half-year absence, and taken 8 for 131 in England's first win over Australia in 18 Test matches, Fraser is now wandering around with his left arm slung Napoleonically across his chest, wondering whether two small hairline finger fractures will cause him further frustration.

Fraser himself is so desperate to play that he would probably volunteer with two broken legs. Atherton also knows that the West Indies are traditionally at their most vulnerable early on in a series, and the prospects of England catching the opposition with their trousers down - as they did in Jamaica four years ago - will be a good deal lower if Fraser is not clambering into his 38-inch inside legs on Saturday morning.

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