Ealham's case gains ground

Click to follow
The Independent Online
In seeking to assemble a competitive squad of around 20 players in time for next summer's Ashes series, the England selectors have once again seen fit to tinker with an unbeaten team, including leg-spinner Ian Salisbury and the uncapped Mark Ealham in the 13 for next Thursday's final Test against India at Trent Bridge.

With Nick Knight still nursing a broken finger, Alec Stewart retains his position at the head of the batting order. However, despite continuing success with their counties, there is still no place for either Yorkshire's Darren Gough or Durham's Simon Brown.

Ealham's inclusion, at the expense of Peter Martin, will surely be welcomed, coming on the back of some particularly impressive bowling performances in the Championship, which his team Kent currently lead.

Having left a firm impression on those who saw him in the Texaco matches earlier in the summer, Ealham's thoughtful brand of common-sense cricket could receive its sternest test to date should he make the final 11. Whether he plays or not will depend if England pick both spinners. If they do, he will compete with Ronnie Irani for the final place.

In a complete about-turn from the spinnerless attack favoured by England at Lord's, the inclusion of Salisbury's leg-spin for Nottingham represents the first of the summer's surprises by Illingworth and his panel.

Salisbury, who made his Test debut in 1993, has always been an effective wicket-taker at county level, without ever having achieved the improvements necessary to survive that extra step up the rung. In fact the last time he played against India - on pitches suited to spin - he took just three wickets and conceded more than four runs an over. He has played for England since, the last of his seven caps coming during the home series against South Africa two years ago.

Yet, even if the pitch should turn - and it has so far been billed as being flatter than the pocket housing Illingworth's wallet - it responds so slowly, that the prospect of two English spinners in tandem will not so much have India's batsmen tumbling back to the pavilion, as falling over themselves to get to the crease.

Unless it is a seamer's boneyard, only one should play with the final choice being made between Min Patel's steady darts and heavier run duties likely to be levied against Salisbury's aggressive leg-spin. That would the leave the pace bowling duties primarily to Chris Lewis, Dominic Cork, and Alan Mullally, with either Irani or Ealham to chip in where necessary.

So far Lewis - who until this season used to play for Nottinghamshire though they struggled to get him anywhere near the pitch with a ball in his hand - has been mightily impressive in his latest role as strike bowler. So impressive in fact, that when his former employers at Trent Bridge see him, a resounding cry of "impostor" is sure to ring out.

But if Lewis has exceeded expectation, Cork has been inconsistent, and his body if not his will, still appears to be coming to terms with the intense workload after completing his first year in international cricket.

England's coach, David Lloyd, believes Cork must learn to be patient, though without compromising his natural aggression. Sitting in, when the conditions are flat and cashing in when the ball moves about.

Lloyd's quirky influence is also having a bearing on how the players prepare themselves between Tests. Having seen the idea in one of the many papers on the subject by Kent's Australian coach, Daryl Foster, Lloyd persuaded a handful of counties to allow their Test players to have last week off. A brave move, considering that two of the players - Graeme Hick and Atherton - are not exactly rewriting any batting form books at the moment.

In Atherton's case, a few days in the Lake District will probably have done him some good, for he is a technician who relies more on unflagging concentration than confidence - the fell air ought to unclog the grey matter.

Not so Hick who appears to thrive more with a healthy score behind him. No doubt irate members of Worcestershire will be awaiting the outcome with keen interest, to see if a week's rest cure at their county's expense, will readily translate into big Test match runs.

Ironically, it was just before the Nottingham Test last year, that Hick was brutally and sensationally dropped by Illingworth. Indeed if extra incentives are needed, none come more powerful than proving a Yorkshireman wrong.

ENGLAND 13 (Third Cornhill Test, v India, Trent Bridge, Thursday): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt); A J Stewart (Surrey); N Hussain (Essex); G P Thorpe (Surrey); G A Hick (Worcestershire; R C Irani (Essex); R C Russell (Gloucestershire, wkt); C C Lewis (Surrey); D G Cork (Derbyshire); A D Mullally (Leicestershire); M M Patel (Kent); M A Ealham (Kent); I D K Salisbury (Sussex).