England embrace the risk option at last

Derek Pringle reports from Cape Town on Ray Illingworth's decision to employ five bowlers against the South Africans; CRICKET: With the series in South Africa still deadlocked as the fifth Test starts today, the visitors are banking on a bold strategy
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It appears to have taken a New Year resolution to do it, but England are at last going to play five bowlers. There is, as Raymond Illingworth pointed out, "eighty grand" on this match, but if the money is a temptation worthy of risk, it is exactly that kind of boldness that could yet make 1996 the year of the fifth bowler and set England off on winning ways.

To be fair, Illingworth, as chairman of selectors, has long championed the format, being one he nearly always adhered to when captain of England. However, without a genuine all-rounder to bat at No 6, it has been a temptation shelved more often than not, and one long thought to have provided the major bone of contention between Atherton and the chairman at selection meetings.

Two things, however, will have persuaded Atherton to change his pragmatic approach. Firstly, England are no longer pushovers, even if their batting still gives the odd imitation of a wobbly set of bar skittles should the captain fail early on.

Secondly, Jack Russell is batting better than ever and with such confidence that England now take his runs for granted. Even so, it will be Robin Smith and not England's quirky keeper who will shift up the order to grasp the nettle and replace Jason Gallian.

With Gough only just fit again, the rest of the bowling almost takes care of itself, although Richard Illingworth, who has a strained left side, will have a fitness test this morning. Mike Watkinson may yet add to his two England caps, should the niggle prevail.

As expected, Devon Malcolm comes in for the injured Mark Ilott, while Angus Fraser returns to the side after being dropped from the third Test in Durban. It will be a valedictory effort, for both bowlers are considered surplus to requirements for the forthcoming one-day series and they, along with Crawley, Ilott and Gallian, return home after this match.

That means the 17 players left - along with Fraser, who will presumably be asked to remain on standby at home - will fight it out for the 14 places in England's World Cup squad, which has to be announced by 22 January.

One man sure to be included, unless his legs are worn away by another marathon spell, is Dominic Cork, who has had a hole drilled through a painful big toenail to relieve the pressure on it. Cork, along with Peter Martin, is likely to swing the ball here, something that has troubled all the South African batsmen bar Daryll Cullinan.

It is a capricious skill, but when it works it can be lethal. So far this season, Meyrick Pringle - whose home ground this is - has taken two six-wicket hauls with his outswingers and South Africa may yet regret not having anyone to bend the ball around through the air.

However, they may not need anyone. Yesterday, the home team went to a nearby airforce base to meet President Nelson Mandela, who had made a special stop for the occasion.

The last time he made a point of wishing his team well, they won the rugby World Cup but, if Hansie Cronje's men are in need of some inspiration, then Paul Adams' presence in front of his home crowd should make the atmosphere hiss with electricity.

Over 100,000 tickets have already been sold for this match, and the only worry is that the huge demand from the hordes of visiting England supporters will have denied the occasion the presence of knowledgeable local supporters.

The pitch here at Newlands is one relaid by Andy Atkinson, the former Essex and Warwickshire groundsman. Traditionally, the pitches here are low and slow, but Atkinson believes the surface will quicken as the game goes on, the surface providing consistent good bounce and carry.

However, this is simply just groundsman-speak for "get out of my hair" and already cracks are breaking out over the business areas. If they widen, Adams could be a real handful on the last two days.

ENGLAND (v South Africa, Fifth Test, Cape Town, starting today) (from): M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, R A Smith, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, R C Russell (wkt), D G Cork, M Watkinson, P J Martin, A R C Fraser, D E Malcolm, R K Illingworth, J E R Gallian.

SOUTH AFRICA (from): A C Hudson, G Kirsten, W J Cronje (capt), D J Cullinan, J N Rhodes, J H Kallis, B M McMillan, D J Richardson (wkt), S M Pollock, C R Matthews, A A Donald, P R Adams, N Boje.