England rely on Hollioake factor

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Faced with the need to win both remaining Test matches to regain the Ashes, the England selectors have included both Adam and Ben Hollioake in their squad for the fifth Test, which starts on Thursday at Trent Bridge.

By defying the form book, David Graveney and his selectors have instead reached for the red button, insisting that it is the one marked "Action" and not the one marked "Panic" that has precipitated the bold changes.

Like all ledgers, however, the England team sheet has had to be balanced, and the selectors have decided to drop Mark Butcher, Mark Ealham and Mike Smith, the latter's place returning to Andy Caddick, the man he surprisingly ousted in the last Test at Headingley.

Of the three, Butcher and Ealham can count themselves fairly unfortunate to have been dropped. They have largely paid the penalty for the failures of others, such as Graham Thorpe and Alec Stewart, the two most affected by the juicy pitches this Test series has so far been played on. It would have been little consolation when the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, phoned to tell them they had done "nothing wrong."

Speaking yesterday, Graveney said that it had been a long, thorough and difficult selection meeting. "We started from the premise that we needed some new blood and a new focal point. That's where the Hollioakes came in. We need to wrest back the initiative from the Aussies and I believe it is in their potential to do that."

These are stirring words from the chairman, but there is something distinctly box office about his eulogy, as if the Aussies, poor fools - as they were in 1981 - are about to be sent packing by a double act comprising The Saint and 007.

It is 16 years since Ian Botham performed miracles against the old enemy. By contrast, it is just 10 weeks since the Hollioake brothers, Adam and 19-year old Ben, last appeared in the same England team together.

So little has happened, though, in the interim - bar Ben's 98 against Kent in the Benson and Hedges Cup final - to get the pulse racing that their presence is an a huge act of faith on the part of the selectors. Botham may have been raw when he made his Test debut in 1977, but he had already scored a first-class hundred and taken over 50 wickets during the season. Here we are in August and neither Hollioake has either a first- class century or 10 wickets to his name.

Both will probably play, however, which would make Ben the youngest England cricketer since Brian Close, who made his debut as an 18-year old against New Zealand 48 years ago.

With Thorpe at five, Adam at six and Ben at seven, the middle order will also have something of an exclusive Surrey club about it. But if Thorpe, out of sorts since his hundred at Edgbaston, was perhaps lucky to survive, the reshuffling of Alec Stewart, to replace his brother- in-law Butcher as opener, appears foolhardy.

Batting at three, Stewart has been in even worse touch than Thorpe on the summer's green pitches. His largely brief stays at the crease have allowed Australia to exploit England's middle order while the ball has been relatively new.

But if opening the innings is something Stewart prefers (he hates sitting about with his pads on), allowing him to do so when he is in such poor form may just exacerbate the problem for those following, such as John Crawley, who now finds himself taking Stewart's old position at three.

Having not featured since Edgbaston, Devon Malcolm's presence is a bit of a mystery, too - although, with Darren Gough currently carrying a sore knee, he is probably there more as cover than as a serious contender to boost an attack already loaded with seam.

With early intelligence over the pitch suggesting that it will be well grassed, the need for two spinners recedes. If only one plays, it could well be the turn of Phil Tufnell, whose left-arm spin has yet to surface in this series.

Indeed, Tufnell's appearances at England's net sessions this summer have been so fleeting that for once his feline nickname seems appropriate. It is England, however, who could do with at least one of the cat's nine lives, if this Ashes series is to survive beyond Trent Bridge.


M A Atherton (Lancashire, captain), age 29, Tests 71.

A J Stewart (Surrey, wicketkeeper), 34, 67

J P Crawley (Lancashire) 25, 21

N Hussain (Essex) 29, 21

G P Thorpe (Surrey) 28, 41

A J Hollioake (Surrey) 25, 0

B C Hollioake (Surrey) 19, 0

R D B Croft (Glamorgan) 27, 9

A R Caddick (Somerset) 28, 14

D Gough (Yorkshire) 26, 21

D W Headley (Kent) 27, 2

D E Malcolm (Derbyshire) 34, 38

P C R Tufnell (Middlesex) 31, 27