McGrath doubts fuelled by Clark call

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The Independent Online

On Sunday, McGrath bullishly stated that he had recovered from the elbow injury which kept him out of the fourth Test, and that he expected to be fit for the encounter at the Oval, which starts on Thursday.

Errol Alcott, the Australian physiotherapist, was cautious when he gave his assessment of McGrath's condition, and it now seems more than a coincidence that Clark has been asked to join the squad the day after McGrath tested his elbow out for the first time since Trent Bridge.

"With a decision yet to be made about Glenn McGrath's availability for the Test, we want to make sure that we have some cover and added flexibility heading into this match," said Trevor Hohns, Australia's chairman of selectors. "We have identified Stuart as a similar style of bowler to Glenn, and given he has been playing some solid cricket in England, it was felt that he was the most suitable inclusion." It is not the first time Clark has been asked to fulfil this role. Clark, an uncapped 29-year-old who is currently playing county cricket for Middlesex, travelled up to Manchester before the third Test as standby for McGrath and Brett Lee but both players came through late fitness tests to play in the match.

While the Australians monitor McGrath during today's practice session in south London, English eyes will be on Simon Jones, as he, too, attempts to prove his fitness. After limping off at Trent Bridge 10 days ago Jones has been wearing a protective boot on his injured right ankle. He has undergone a rigorous course of physiotherapy, which has included more than a dozen visits to a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at a London hospital and a couple of trips to the hydrotherapy unit at Arsenal's London Colney training ground.

Yet this afternoon, when he tentatively ambles up and turns his arm over, the 26 year-old will be given a good idea whether all the treatment and heartache has been worthwhile. The ankle will be sore - bony growths do not disappear overnight, unless they are operated on - but England will be hoping that Jones, with the aid of injections, anti-inflammatory tablets, strapping and a couple of chewy bullets, will play and bowl with the same intent as he has in the previous four Tests.

The only definite decision that could come out of today's workout would be a negative one. If Jones feels similar discomfort to that in Nottingham then England will be forced to declare him unfit. Even if he comes through the session relatively pain-free England will still have to wait until the morning after before they can begin to feel optimistic.

In a game of this importance England need to know Jones can bowl three spells in a day, and then turn up on the next day and bowl more. Ultimately, the final decision will come down to the bowler. Only he will know whether he can get through the match and bowl 30 to 40 overs.

For a player this is an awful position to be in. You want to play. Your team wants you to play. Yet you owe it to them to be honest and not selfish. If you hobble off injured after four overs, you will have done nobody any favours, and it will be you who cops the greatest amount of flak.

Jones' figures - 18 wickets at an average of 21 - give an indication of how much he has troubled the Australians, but they tell only half the story. His ability to swing the new and the old ball has provided Michael Vaughan with a constant cutting edge, but it is the pressure he and his fast bowling team-mates have been able to put on Australia which has caused the tourists to crumble. Pressure is the ingredient that takes most wickets in Test cricket. It is why McGrath and Shane Warne regularly bowl in tandem.

James Anderson and Paul Collingwood will be watching Jones the closest because one of them will play if he is unfit. Anderson would come closer to filling the hole, and the selectors will be scrutinising the fast bowler when he bowls in the nets. If Anderson bowls well he is the likelier replacement; if not, Collingwood will enter the fray.

Justin Langer highlighted how far England's bowling has come when he compared it to the great West Indian attack of the early Nineties. "England do not yet possess bowlers of the quality of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, who are all-time greats, but they certainly have a similar style," said Langer. "They create relentless pressure and it is hard to score runs."