England primed for opening salvo

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BY MARTIN JOHNSON

Cricket Correspondent

The opening shots in this summer's international conflict will be fired at Trent Bridge this morning, and it does not greatly matter if some of the shots are the angled dab to third man, and the cross-batted hoick to cow corner. The Texaco Trophy is mostly about a few entertaining days out, and their success or failure will be gauged more by the proportion of chewed fingernail swept up along with the rest of the post-match litter as by who wins or loses.

Neither side will actually want to lose, of course, not least because they will pocket less of the swag on offer, but any notion of the winners picking up psychological bonus points before the more serious stuff begins can be dismissed as so much hooey.

The West Indians won their recent one-day series against Australia 4- 1 without it doing them any good in the Tests, while England have whitewashed this opposition 3-0 in their last two Texaco competitions without translating it into a winning Test series. The two games are about as compatible as the opinions of Raymond Illingworth and Michael Atherton as to which one of them has been getting his own way in selection meetings.

There was, we are told, not much argument over this particular 13-man squad, although it is difficult to believe that Atherton was completely thrilled about the inclusion of Alan Wells. If Illingworth does not see Wells as a potential captaincy candidate, why endorse his selection with the observation that Wells was a "sensible sort of a lad?"

Up until now, being a sensible sort of a lad is not thought to have been an overpowering credential for playing one-day cricket, and it may not be without significance that Illingworth cagily avoided a specific denial when asked whether Wells' selection might have had something to do with politics as well as cricket. The England chairman merely said that the captaincy "was not discussed" at the selection meeting, which, of course, you would scarcely expect with Atherton across the table.

Wells also happens to be a very good batsman, not to mention a very good fielder, a department in which England deserved some sort of special wheelchair award in Australia last winter. Wells is also a fine player of fast bowling, although his already slim chance of making the XI this morning is not helped by the suspicion that the West Indian pace attack - dare one say it - looks really rather friendly.

When the tourists arrived, their coach, Andy Roberts, unveiled plans to alter Curtly Ambrose's style of bowling. Roberts was, in fact, referring to coaching him in the art of swinging the ball, although now he might be wondering whether a more literal form of surgery might be in order, namely to have about six inches sawn off Curtly's front leg.

Ambrose's failure to find any kind of rhythm on tour so far is highlighted by an aggregate return of one wicket for 206 runs at around six runs per over, not much of a statistic for a bloke who made his reputation not only as a nasty guy to bat against, but also someone who is impossibly difficult to score off.

Furthermore, in straining to find his normal fluency, Ambrose's left leg is straying so far over the crease that he has totted up no fewer than 32 no-balls. This is by no means a new problem for West Indian fast bowlers, and by regularly donating the opposition two or three extra overs, they tend to make life a little harder for themselves in one-day cricket than in Tests.

When England won all three Texaco games in 1988, the West Indies contributed 15 no-balls and 33 wides, and when a similar result was recorded in 1991, they were even worse - 26 no-balls, and 42 wides. In addition, one-day regulations are framed so that the traditional West Indian method of dampening a batsman's enthusiasm - fizz a couple past his visor - is not allowed.

They also have problems at the top of the batting order, and have had to push Carl Hooper up to open, hoping that the new role will cure Hooper's tendency to fall into a deep coma once he has reached 20 or 30.

Richie Richardson is also struggling with a total of five runs in his three first-class innings, and this morning marks the West Indian captain's first appearance in an international match in England wearing a helmet. Interestingly, and perhaps not un-coincidentally, as soon as he made the switch from his distinctive floppy hat last winter, he was hit on the head in Jamaica.

The West Indies may consider playing Ian Bishop, whose back trouble has confined him to seven Tests in four years, while England's team looked more or less cut and dried until a tracksuited Illingworth took part in yesterday's practice session. We've all got it wrong. It's not Wells threatening Atherton over the captaincy after all. It's Illy.

ENGLAND (probable): M A Atherton or R Illingworth (capt), A J Stewart, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, N H Fairbrother, D G Cork, D Gough, P A J DeFreitas, S D Udal, A R C Fraser.

WEST INDIES (probable): C L Hooper, S L Campbell, B C Lara, R B Richardson (capt), J C Adams, K L T Arthurton, J R Murray, O D Gibson or I R Bishop, W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh.

Gough in spotlight,

Tim de Lisle, page 38

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