England selectors stand by their team

Cricket

The England selectors, keen to play their role in the psychological warfare in this Ashes series, have acted with unprecedented speed in naming an unchanged squad for the Headingley Test on 24 July, just 24 hours after losing the third Test. By keeping faith with those involved in the debacle at Old Trafford, the message to Australia is one of confidence and faith, sentiments mostly lacking when England have lost in the past.

The chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and his co- selector Graham Gooch were at Old Trafford on Sunday, where they spoke to Mike Gatting by telephone. Having agreed on the same side plus Phil Tufnell, they felt it was in everyone's interest to announce it sooner rather than later. "We felt we needed to select the side as soon as possible," Graveney said yesterday. "As selectors we were keen to indicate confidence in the XI at Old Trafford."

Two of those involved in the build-up for the last Test, Devon Malcolm and Mike Smith, have been left out, though the selectors can still make changes should injury or conditions take them by surprise. However, the pair, along with Essex's Ashley Cowan and the Hollioake brothers will join the squad for a two-day seminar prior to the Test.

The get-together, like the one during April, will once again involve Will Carling's company, Insights, who hope to obtain the services of the Lions coaches, Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer, in an attempt to refocus England's bid for the Ashes.

"There are lessons to be learnt from Old Trafford," Graveney continued. "The seminar is a good opportunity for us to assess things. At 1-1, we have a great chance to win the series and `Bumble' [David Lloyd] in particular, wants to re-affirm how we want to win.

"The players realise that they are in the middle of a major scrap. But we have to remember how positively we played at Edgbaston. The side who wins this series will be the one that bounces better off the ropes. Australia showed they could do it. Now we must."

If there is one wish, apart from winning the Ashes, that Michael Atherton has cherished above all since becoming captain - other than a gagging order on Raymond Illingworth - it is that continuity over team selection be observed.

Now that is happening, he must prove its merits. England may have been outclassed in Manchester, but by not making changes they clearly believe they have the players and the game plan to beat Australia for a second time. However, as we saw, things do not always pan out as you expect and despite having by far the best conditions to bowl and bat in, as well as the right team to exploit them, England were roundly trounced.

When that happens, confidence can be totally flattened, though this brisk selection should at least serve to calm the apprehensions of those, like Andy Caddick and Mark Ealham, who might have felt their position coming under review.

Indeed, had the squad not been announced until next Sunday, only Mark Butcher, John Crawley and the eight-wicket debutant Dean Headley could have slept soundly after England's glaring errors on the first two days at Old Trafford.

Moping after losing can be counter-productive at this time of the season and the selectorial speed will have helped to fulfill Atherton's desire for his players to return for the fourth Test "feeling mentally refreshed".

To the Australians, used to beating England and then watching them capitulate further into disarray, the announcement will certainly have had some novelty value. It may not ruin their Scottish sojourn, but it will probably raise an eyebrow or two when the news finally reaches the golf course.

It may not be the reaction of a team overconcerned about their opponents, but then Pommie bravado has never much bothered them before.

ENGLAND SQUAD (for fourth Test): M A Atherton (capt), M A Butcher, A J Stewart (wkt), N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, M A Ealham, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R Caddick, D W Headley, P C R Tufnell.

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