Delight for Devon, torment for Taylor

The Australians 362-6 dec Derbyshire 68-1
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The Independent Online
Most of the meaningful action happened in 20 minutes here yesterday. At the beginning of that brief morning period, England's strategy for recapturing the Ashes became clearer and by the end of it Australia's plans for keeping them were decidedly cloudier. As the day wore on the tourists produced some batting of a thrillingly high calibre on a flat pitch against some distinctly uninspired bowling.

Greg Blewett composed a lovely, languid century. The second fifty took only 45 balls, but you could watch him go through his offside repertoire for a lifetime. Matthew Elliott made another half-century, Steve Waugh ensured that his form remained intact and Michael Bevan was also in splendid order. Attractive as all this was on a glorious day, which contrived to make the prosaic County Ground alluring, it could not dispel the significance of previous events.

The first occurrence was the withdrawal from the Derbyshire team of the fast bowler Devon Malcolm, the second was the early dismissal of the Australian captain, Mark Taylor. Malcolm, the country's leading wicket taker, was pulled out at the specific request of the England chairman of selectors, David Graveney, which was tantamount to a formal announcement that he will play in the First Test in Birmingham on Thursday.

Graveney apologised to the Derby public for his actions and conceded he should have moved earlier in the week. "I'm not saying Devon will definitely play but he's obviously very much on our minds. Dean Jones [Derbyshire's captain] wasn't too happy and I understand his position. He wants to win the game," Graveney said.

Should Malcolm play it made little sense to parade the new, accurate model before the Australians' very eyes, despite the chairman's edict that the counties should provide serious opposition. There is also the little matter of the 194 first-class overs Malcolm has already bowled this season. As he himself mentioned yesterday while contemplating - unofficially, of course - the prospect of a return, the last thing he wanted was another 40 or 50 overs. "If you're a fast bowler it's impossible to hold it back," he said. "I would've had to produce a Test match spell here and then perhaps another on Thursday. I don't see there's any need to play. I've got nothing to prove." On Thursday he'll have something to prove all right.

If Malcolm's recall had become inevitable, it was not quite such a racing certainty as the continuing failure of poor Taylor. A fortnight ago in Northampton he made 76 in the opening one day and that seemed to be that - until the serious stuff began at least. But since then he has hardly made a run.

It would not be so bad were it not for his Test form - 20 innings in 18 months without a half-century - and yesterday he smacked little more than a long hop from Phillip DeFreitas straight into the hands of mid- wicket. He essayed the shot again in frustration as he shuttled back to the pavilion and it still looked to be heading for mid-wicket.

Taylor will play on Thursday, no doubt, but the concentration on his form must be unhealthy for his side. The feeling, whatever his leadership virtues, that he is holding a valuable batting place and thus disturbing the side's equilibrium and composition will burgeon. This at least may be one theory. Another is that the rest of the Australian line-up is equipped to handle it. When Taylor went, Justin Langer followed quickly after which Elliot, but especially Blewett, played beautifully. Elliott - who has been compared to the former Australian captain Bill Lawry, but surely only for his lantern jaw - eventually cut to slip.

Blewett struck two sixes and 19 fours and met each of his 172 balls with glorious conviction until the last, a slightly mistimed pull shot. The Australians accumulated a few more comfortably enough, Derbyshire batted zestfully in the evening but the real stuff starts this week.

John Benaud, page 16