Mullally's recall raises problems

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The Independent Online

The England team announced for the fourth Test against the West Indies at Headingley on Thursdayreveals little but the selectors' current penchant for twisted logic. That is certainly the impression given by the addition of Alan Mullally to a squadalready containing four pace bowlers and a seam bowling all-rounder.

The England team announced for the fourth Test against the West Indies at Headingley on Thursdayreveals little but the selectors' current penchant for twisted logic. That is certainly the impression given by the addition of Alan Mullally to a squadalready containing four pace bowlers and a seam bowling all-rounder.

With 23 wickets in his two last Championship matches for Hampshire, Mullally, picked in place of the spinner Robert Croft, is in the form of his career at present. On a pitch renowned for assisting vertical seam, he would undoubtedly be an asset, especially as he also tends to bowl well at left-handers, of which the West Indies have five at any given time. Yet unless injury strikes over the coming days, there is no reason why the pace quartet used at Old Trafford should be dismantled.

With England almost certain to play seven batsmen, the only chance of a return to colours for the tall left-armer, who last played Test cricket in the now infamous Centurion match against South Africa seven months ago, is if he plays in place of Craig White. Mind you, to even achieve that he will have to elbow aside the local lad Matthew Hoggard, who is also named in the squad.

An all-rounder who specialises in reverse-swinging the old ball, White's skills are not perhaps best suited to the Test strip on his home ground, which tends to profit those bowling accurately from a steep angle, an option Mullally, at 6ft 4 in, definitely offers. In addition to this, the Headingley pitch, almost more than any ground in England, acts as a barometer for overhead conditions - swinging conventionally (rather than reverse) when it is cloudy, and becoming benign when the sun comes out.

Mullally has something else going for him too: his economy. In a series where quarters should be taken, rather than gifted, England's bowlers will not want to lose control for even a single session. With a run-rate of 2.3 runs per over, Mullally is closer to matching Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose than any England bowler since Angus Fraser. Such miserliness should allow the home side to block up at least one end and control all but the most sublime of Brian Lara's flourishes.

Despite his modest contribution so far with the bat, White does not deserve to miss out, for he has bowled with real pace and verve. Yet Nasser Hussain's miserable form has forced England to contemplate playing seven batsmen, a ploy which seems certain to be adopted. If it is, it will be the 10th recall of Graeme Hick's career.

Hick has long seen himself as the scapegoat of England's failures. His exclusion at Old Trafford 10 days ago, for the returning Graham Thorpe, would merely have enforced that feeling, as will batting at No 7 next Thursday. If the selectors, and in particular Duncan Fletcher, had not earmarked him to tour Pakistan this winter, a better option might have been to pick Andrew Flintoff or Nick Knight, both in form, for Headingley.

Hick averages 33.34 in Test cricket, which is not disgraceful. Yet, place that beside his incredible achievement of 111 first-class hundreds and he appears destined, at least at Test level, to remain a Rubik's cube forever stuck between colours. So far no captain, coach or batting position has come close to solving that conundrum.

Hick could, of course, bat at three at Headingley, as could Michael Vaughan, who opens on the ground for Yorkshire, but Hussain is adamant that he will continue to bat at first wicket down, where he claims to have scored his best runs for England. There is a bit of machismo involved here, and his double century against Australia, surely the apogee of his Test career to date, actually came when he occupied the No 4 spot.

What Hussain himself must realise, is that to go forward, one occasionally has to step back first. It is judging when best to do it that is the difficult bit.

ENGLAND SQUAD (Fourth Cornhill Test v West Indies, Headingley, starting Thursday): N Hussain (Essex, capt), M A Atherton (Lancashire), M E Trescothick (Somerset), G P Thorpe (Surrey), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), G A Hick (Worcestershire), C White (Yorkshire), D G Cork (Derbyshire), A R Caddick (Somerset), D Gough (Yorkshire), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), A D Mullally (Hampshire).

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