Clouds hold silver lining for Lewis after rain delays hopes of Test debut

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Jonathan Lewis was probably only five minutes away from making his England debut when persistent rain returned to the highveldt and washed out the play on the first day of the fifth Test against South Africa. The Gloucestershire seamer may yet make his first appearance for England this morning if the weather were to remain overcast and damp. But should the sun come out, and the pitch lose some of its greenness, this could possibly be the closest the 29 year-old gets to playing Test cricket.

Jonathan Lewis was probably only five minutes away from making his England debut when persistent rain returned to the highveldt and washed out the play on the first day of the fifth Test against South Africa. The Gloucestershire seamer may yet make his first appearance for England this morning if the weather were to remain overcast and damp. But should the sun come out, and the pitch lose some of its greenness, this could possibly be the closest the 29 year-old gets to playing Test cricket.

After play had been abandoned for the day Lewis was evasive when asked whether England had selected their side for this crucial match, but this is because another bank of drizzle drifted across the ground five minutes before Michael Vaughan was about to toss. It forced the ground-staff to bring the covers back on and saved England from announcing their starting XI.

Had the coin gone up Vaughan and Graeme Smith would have had no option but to play the teams written down on the pieces of paper they had exchanged before the toss. But because of the wet weather both captains were able to wait until this morning before they finally named their teams.

Yet this did not stop South Africa from naming a side containing two changes from that which lost by 77 runs on Monday in Johannesburg. As expected, Andre Nel returned and he will be joined by the all-rounder Andrew Hall, who was preferred to Boeta Dippenaar.

This decision ensured the South African players knew where they stood before they went to bed last night, while three or four of those in England's provisional squad of 13 will need to arrive at the ground before they learn their fate.

The feeling that Lewis would get his chance came during a temporary break in the inclement weather. With the covers removed a starting time of 12 o'clock was agreed on by the umpires and captains. England's hasty preparations began with a team meeting and it is here that Vaughan would have told the squad who was playing.

Following the 11.15am team meeting a couple of players went up to Simon Jones and patted him on the back, and the Glamorgan fast bowler was seen to shake the hand of Lewis. It was difficult to work out whether these pats were congratulatory or consolatory but there is a possibility that both Jones and Lewis could play at the expense of either Ashley Giles or Stephen Harmison.

The appearance of Paul Collingwood in England's 13-man squad came as a surprise but it makes sense. England, with a 2-1 lead, do not have to win this Test match to win the series and should rain continue to interrupt the game Vaughan could be tempted to pack his side with batting and play for a draw. If this approach was taken Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard would be the only two bowlers guaranteed a place in the side.

"With the conditions as they are the selectors have not yet selected the team," said a nervous Lewis. "But I am hoping and praying to get the call-up. There was never much chance of getting any play in today so I have just been relaxing and getting to know the players a bit better.

"Having come out here as cover for Stephen Harmison I never really expected to play but with the conditions being pretty English, and me being an English-type bowler, there is a chance that the ball will swing around a bit and that I may get a game.

"I would be very proud if I make the final XI. It is something I have been working towards for a long time now and it would make all the hours on the treadmill and in the gym worthwhile."

In an era of dry, hard pitches England's selectors have not been particularly keen on the traditional English-type seamer. Martin Bicknell played a couple of Test matches against South Africa in 2003 but it is tall, fast bowlers, who are capable of troubling batsmen on benign surfaces that are the rage. But on a pitch as verdant as this an accurate medium-fast bowler, who hits the seam and wobbles the ball about a bit in the air, has a good chance of being a match-winner.

In the last two years Lewis has been as successful as any fast bowler in England. Playing on slow seamers at Bristol has helped his cause, but by taking 131 wickets at an average of 24.73 he has shown he can perform on most types of surfaces.

England's selectors do not have to worry about his temperament either. Lewis has played in several Lord's finals for Gloucestershire and has performed with distinction.

That England are prepared to pick Lewis - a player called up as a replacement - ahead of James Anderson, an original member of the squad, should indicate to the selectors that their centrally contracted players need to play more cricket. Lewis has bowled more than 1,000 first-class overs in the last two seasons and spent the winter of 2003-04 playing grade cricket for Randwick-Petersham in Sydney.

During the same period Anderson has bowled only 500 first-class overs and is looking a shadow of the bowler who broke into the England side in 2003. Anderson needs to return to county cricket at the start of the 2005 season and play for Lancashire until he regains the form which excited a nation.

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