England lay the foundation

First Test: Atherton must take chance to build on the success of his one-day side as cricket's balance of power alters; Simon O'Hagan expects few changes in the squad to face India over five days
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The Independent Online
Recent history suggests that England should not look forward to a Test match at Edgbaston with anything other than trepidation. But when the three-match series against India begins there on Thursday, they would surely be justified in admitting to a degree of guarded optimism.

No other English ground has gone as long as Edgbaston without witnessing a home victory in a Test. It last happened in 1990, when New Zealand were beaten by 114 runs and a Leicestershire all-rounder called Chris Lewis made a promising debut.

Since then, Birmingham has been bad news. In 1991, West Indies beat England by seven wickets; in 1992 there was a draw against Pakistan in a match ruined by rain; in 1993 - Mike Atherton's first Test as captain - Australia won by eight wickets; and last year (there was no Edgbaston Test in 1994) West Indies took advantage of one of the most infamous wickets of modern times to polish off England by an innings in less than two-and-a-half days.

Nobody at Warwickshire who felt the force of the crowd's anger that Saturday lunchtime wants to repeat the experience, which is why the county is doing all it can to ensure that conditions this time are not weighted quite so much in the bowlers' favour.

India's bowling attack may not be in the same league as West Indies', but in Javagal Srinath they have a seamer who is as dangerous as anything England can offer, while the progress made by the man with whom he shares the new ball, Venkatesh Prasad, has been one of the few positive aspects of their tour so far. It is beyond these two - and Anil Kumble - that it starts to look a bit thin.

From England's point of view, the Texaco Trophy series was an almost unqualified success, but in ways that had not been expected. Apart from Mark Ealham at the Oval, nobody went mad with the bat. Alistair Brown's century at Old Trafford was a more watchful innings than he usually plays. The weather, and wickets that were never easy to bat on, meant that the only example of pinch-hittingcame when Sachin Tendulkar and Vikram Rathore flailed for five overs at the Oval.

While the walk-out of Navjot Sidhu confirmed the impression of India as a team not quite pulling together, England are suddenly playing as a unit. Their fielding and general outlook have been transformed, and these are aspects of the game that are every bit as relevant to Test cricket as they are in one-dayers. Indeed, while the one-day squad was chosen with a specific aim in mind, you could argue in favour of minimal change for the First Test. As it is, I think we can bid farewell for the moment to Mark Ealham, Ronnie Irani, Neil Smith, Alistair Brown and Matthew Maynard.

Most people would still balk at Brown opening the England batting in a Test for all that, in word and deed, he has done to try to shed his image as an exclusively one-day player. Nick Knight, of Warwickshire,has had a good enough start to the first class season (419 runs at 59.85) to justify being restored to the role to which, ultimately, he is better suited than Brown. He will test his cracked finger against Northamptonshire in the Sunday league today.

Alec Stewart's return to form in the one-dayers has complicated the picture. Written off after the winter, he could yet retain his Test place, either as Atherton's opening partner or coming in at No 6, but not, let us hope, as a wicket-keeper as well.

No 3 in the batting order has, historically speaking, been England's problem position, and in spite of a fitful, injury-blighted start to his Test career, John Crawley's undoubted class should ensure he gets another chance. Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe are automatic choices at nos 4 and 5,while Nasser Hussain should edge out Maynard at no 6. His 85 against the Indians last week could not have been more timely.

Conditions at Edgbaston will tempt England into playing four seam bowlers. Dominic Cork, whose dismissal of Tendulkar in the one dayer at Old Trafford is an early contender for ball of the season, is certain to be one, Chris Lewis and Peter Martin another two. Some of the conviction has gone from Darren Gough's game, and he may be pressed hard for his place. Alan Mullally of Leicestershire, as a left-armer would add another dimension to the attack. Angus Fraser is, like his bowling, always there or thereabouts, while Min Patel of Kent has surely edged ahead of Richard Illingworth as a spinner.

Possible 13: Knight, Atherton (capt), Hick, Crawley, Thorpe, Mullally, Hussain, Russell (wkt), Lewis, Cork, Fraser, Martin, Patel.