Hegg can stake England Test claim

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The Independent Online

Every England tour has its "Lord Lucan," that player last seen waving goodbye on the aeroplane steps never to be seen or heard of again. They rarely resurface at a later date either, their chance in the spotlight forever blighted by loss of memory on the part of the captain or a sudden change in selection policy.

In India before Christmas, Warren Hegg, Lancashire's 34-year old wicketkeeper-captain, fitted the profile perfectly. But if he failed to once take the field in seven weeks, a minor miracle given the surfeit of dodgy tummies and dusty coughs that afflicted the team, he begins the New Zealand leg playing the opening three-day match against Otago in place of 21-year old James Foster.

It might not be a gesture either, despite the selectors' indication that they would persist with youth after Foster's steady progress in India. A week may be a long time in politics, but it can seem even longer in sport and the Essex keeper's Teflon-like relationship with the ball in the recent one-day matches appear to have set both his own confidence, as well as that of the selectors, back a notch or two.

An old-fashioned county pro, Hegg, whose last competitive cricket was with Lancashire in September, is grateful for the chance and plans to make life difficult for all concerned.

"It was frustrating not playing in India, as I've still got hopes of adding to the two Test caps I won in Australia three years ago," said Hegg at the stunning Queenstown ground.

Hegg's attempt to rekindle his Test career coincides with his promotion to captain of Lancashire, following the acrimonious sacking of John Crawley last season. Power can change a man but, if it has come too late in life to alter Hegg, the new captain believes the vice-captain's role bestowed on Andrew Flintoff will benefit all interested parties.

"People don't realise that 'Freddie' has a terrific cricket brain and is tactically very sound," said Hegg, who has seen Flintoff at close quarters ever since the all-rounder arrived at Old Trafford as a gawky teenager in 1995.

"I think he's learnt more about himself as a pro cricketer in the last 12 months. He looks very fit and has become a really good one-day player. He's been a revelation with the ball and I'm sure he'll take that form into the Tests." If he does, and his county captain also takes his chance here against Otago, c Hegg b Flintoff, may not be a mode of dismissal confined solely to the Lancashire scorecard.

* Aftab Habib yesterday agreed a three-year deal to join Essex. Habib, 30, recently became the first cricketer in the English game to become a free agent by buying out the final year of his contract. Leicestershire have replaced him with Rob Cunliffe of Gloucestershire.