Butcher and Jones edge clear in race for Test place

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Simon Jones and Mark Butcher can expect to play in the first Test against South Africa after being named in England's side for the three-day game against South Africa A which starts here today.

Simon Jones and Mark Butcher can expect to play in the first Test against South Africa after being named in England's side for the three-day game against South Africa A which starts here today. This is England's only serious warm-up match before they travel to Port Elizabeth and the selectors had little option but to pick the side they feel will play on Friday.

Jones, the Glamorgan fast bowler, and Butcher, the Surrey batsman, have regained their places ahead of James Anderson and Robert Key. Both decisions were expected but Anderson and Key have every right to feel disappointed. Both played in England's final three Test matches against the West Indies, and helped secure the victories which allowed Michael Vaughan's team to become the first since 1959 - England beat India 5-0 - to win every Test match in a summer.

The decision to play Butcher was the easier of the two to make. England's No 3 was replaced by Key when he strained his calf at the end of the three-Test series against New Zealand. Butcher had not been in the best of form against the Kiwis, but his record over the last three-and-a-half years is good enough to gain him selection over Key, who averaged 63 in his four Tests against the West Indies.

"Mark Butcher's performances over the years mean that he has some credit in the bank," said Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. "And I think it is important that those players who have put in performances are looked after like this. It has been injury, not lack of form, that has kept him out." The choice of Jones ahead of Anderson was far closer because neither bowler has yet shown the consistency needed to succeed at Test level. This is highlighted by the policy of the selectors, who are yet to name both players in the same Test side.

Jones' career has been beset by injuries. Since making his debut in 2002 the 25-year-old has missed Test matches with a side strain, ruptured knee ligaments and what was believed to be the early signs of a stress fracture of the foot. Anderson has had a few niggles, but it is his inability to find the form of 2003 which has kept him out of the side.

The pair have been competing for one spot since England arrived in Southern Africa three-and-a-half weeks ago. Anderson played in the initial one-day games but Jones looked the likelier wicket-taker when he was given a chance.

"I thought Simon Jones bowled very well in Zimbabwe," Fletcher said. "The lines he bowled were outstanding, as was the length. We didn't want him to bowl as quickly as he could whilst we were there, or in the Oppenheimer game earlier in the week. We wanted him to bowl well within himself so that he did not pick up an injury. All he has to do now that he is confident is up his pace a bit, which I think he is capable of." England want Jones to be at his fiery best but he must also keep his temper under control. In the West Indies he was fined 50 per cent of his match fee following an exchange with Ramnaresh Sarwan, and in Zimbabwe he came close to blowing a gasket when Hamilton Masakadza hit him for three consecutive fours.

No England tour, after a lengthy break, has contained less preparation time than this and the visitors will be desperate for three full days play here. Fletcher has played down the risk of having so little competitive cricket but the lack of time, and England's training yesterday, led to him reminding the squad of their responsibilities after practice. Vaughan's side will get a good idea of where they stand against a team containing five Test players. The most notable is Mark Boucher, the South African wicketkeeper. Boucher's recent Test omission has surprised many and he will be keen to show the selectors that he still has plenty to offer.

The plight of Boucher, the injury to Herschelle Gibbs, the outspoken nature of Ray Jennings, the coach, and recent results - they have lost their last two Test series - suggests that all is not well in South African cricket.

"We have to try and take advantage of this," Fletcher said. "After losing to India their confidence must be low."

England: M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, M A Butcher, M P Vaughan (capt), G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones (wkt), A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison.

South Africa A: M Van Jaarsfeld, A Puttick, J Ontong, A Prince (capt), J P Duminy, M Boucher (wkt), A Morkel, A Thomas, C Langeveldt, C Willoughby, E Mbhalati.

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