England may push Russell up the order

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The Independent Online
Cricket

Jack Russell could be promoted to No 6 in England's batting order for the fourth Test match against South Africa which starts at Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.

The wicketkeeper, whose England place was regularly under threat because of his failure to score enough runs, has silenced most of his critics this winter.

Having toyed with the idea of giving Russell extra responsibility throughout a tour still being ravaged by rain, the manager, Ray Illingworth and the captain, Mike Atherton, are now seriously considering the possibility.

They would like to confront South Africa with five front-line bowlers on Boxing Day - particularly if the pitch looks as though it will be spinner- friendly. And by including all-rounder Mike Watkinson for his first Test of the trip, England can give themselves some batting insurance lower down the order.

"It it happens I will relish the challenge," says the 32-year-old Gloucestershire player. "But I wouldn't try to change how I'm batting. I play my own game these days and that's the way I must continue."

Russell has a first-class batting average of nearly 80 on this tour. But undoubtedly his finest performance to date came in Johannesburg when he helped Atherton save the second Test.

England will make no final decisions until they have seen the Port Elizabeth pitch, satisfied themselves about Peter Martin's fitness and worked out whether Jason Gallian is ready to bat at No 3 after just one innings in South Africa following his arrival from Pakistan to serve as John Crawley's replacement.

TOUR MATCH (Pietermaritzburg): Combined SA Universities 269 for 8 dec (N Pothas 147, N Boje 51, M C Ilott 6-89) v England 186 for 2 (A J Stewart 89no, M A Atherton 50). Combined SA Universities drew with England.

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