Hussain welcomes the selectors' headache

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The Independent Online

Nasser Hussain challenged England's new generation of bowlers to make the missing "old guard" earn their recall when the summer's Test match programme resumes against South Africa next month. A break of almost seven weeks from international five-day cricket will almost certainly allow the injured Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Caddick to regain full fitness and may even see Darren Gough back in contention should he enjoy a successful NatWest Series. But after Steve Harmison and James Anderson bowled England to a 2-0 series victory over Zimbabwe here yesterday, hard on the heels of Richard Johnson's six-wicket debut bowl on Friday, Hussain forecast a dilemma for the selectors ahead of the opening Test against South Africa at Edgbaston on 24 July.

"It is going to be tough for the selectors because the old guns have done it against the best in the world," he said. "But in this game we had to bowl in conditions that were almost sub-continental, with the ball not swinging and on a wicket that was slow and low and with no sideways movement. To take 20 wickets in those conditions was a fantastic achievement.

"We would have been disappointed if they had not bowled well at Lord's in the First Test because they were typical English conditions. But here was something these young guns are not used to." At 28, Johnson, whose Friday figures of 6 for 33 were the fourth best by an England debutant in the first innings, is hardly a "young gun", but could yet have a lengthy international career ahead of him if his suspect right knee stays intact. Hussain clearly wants to see more of him.

"Richard was excellent," he said. "All right, you can say we were not fully tested against a Zimbabwe side that is in transition after going through some tough times but all you can do is play well against what is placed in front of you.

"In the conditions we had a game plan and Richard stuck to it so well. He likes to swing the ball away, but with no movement I told him to keep it straight and full and look for lbws and he kept to it superbly.

"Likewise today with Jimmy and Steve. I kept bringing Jimmy back on because I wanted him to get another five-for to show it is not just about swing bowling and that he can get wickets even in testing conditions like these.

"Against South Africa we will pick the best squad to win the series and clearly the experienced guys will be back in the frame but given the injuries we tend to get I'd be surprised if these bowlers were not involved at some point."

After a four-year run as captain, Hussain now hands over to Michael Vaughan for the one-day matches against Zimbabwe, Pakistan and South Africa. He said, however, that he had no regrets about his decision to continue as Test captain only. "Since the third or fourth day of the Melbourne Test we have played some really good cricket and it has lifted my spirits," he said. "But I am comfortable with the decision I made. It is perfect for English cricket at a time when we need to progress and I wish Michael Vaughan and the players really well." Meanwhile, a 12,000 full house boosted Durham's prospects for staging an Ashes Test in 2005 rather than the game against Bangladesh they have been provisionally allocated. The club are planning a vigorous lobbying campaign to persuade the ECB of their case.

"We have been told there is a chance and we believe the successful staging of this match against Zimbabwe reinforces our argument," the Durham chairman, Bill Midgley, said. "I appreciate we need to prove ourselves as a Test venue. I believe this match has taken us a long way towards that. We are convinced we can outperform other grounds in commercial terms."