Gatting's blood and guts get England going : CRICKET

Malcolm outpaces McDermott after tourists break Bulls with stalwart's d ouble-century
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England 507 for 6 dec Queensland 197 for 4

This is Toowoomba's event of the year, front-page news in the Morning Chronicle, and, as ever in these up-country games, accompanied by about 30 loudspeaker announcements per hour. Roughly 29 of these are a raucous invitation to "put your hands together"for various worthy contributors, ranging from the Toomwoomba tea ladies to the deputy turnstile attendant - although when England are in town, it is generally more appropriate for the congregation to be invited to put their hands together by a vicar, rather than an over-the-top MC wearing a stetson.

Happily, however, this has not been one of those gloomy, let-us-pray weekends, and the posters around town billing England as an international cricket team have not yet been referred to Toowoomba's Trade Descripions office.

Mike Gatting led England's run glut with an innings of 203 not out, although thanks to the fact that Gatting was not quite as adroit at putting his hands together as the announcer might have liked, it almost ended with a further addition to an England casualty list currently stretching to toilet-roll length.

Having saved his place (one assumes) for the second Test match, Gatting had only been in the field for seven deliveries of the Queensland reply when his dive (well, more of a flop really) at extra cover only prevented the ball from making further progress by intercepting it with his right cheek.

Gatting, with blood coming from a cut inside the mouth, was treated by local medical staff on the field, and for a time it did not look too good for England's No 1 trencherman. Did he say: "Will I be OK for Melbourne?" or: "Give it to me straight, doc, will I be able to manage a plate of scones at teatime?"

Happily, Gatting was pronounced fit for both, and will not even require a late test, either at the nets or McDonald's. This is a rare piece of good news, as England currently have so few players sound of wind and limb that Gatting's initial fielding substitute, before they found a couple of willing locals, was the physiotherapist, Dave Roberts.

It is, in fact, quicker to list the players who are fully fit than those who are not. Steve Rhodes, Sean Udal, Angus Fraser, Devon Malcolm, Phillip Tufnell, John Crawley, and, at 41, the soundest of the lot, Graham Gooch. All the rest have various complaints, and Alec Stewart was originally due to have this match off with his dodgy back until it became clear that England would not then be able to raise an XI.

The major area of concern involves the quicker bowlers, so much so that the original plan to summon Dominic Cork as a straight replacement for Craig White was yesterday altered to Mark Illott being whistled up instead, as Darren Gough and Phillip DeFreitas are both struggling to make Friday's deadline for the Melbourne Test.

Illott, who was due to travel to India with England's A squad on 28 December, was last night trying to find a seat on a plane to Australia, and could conceivably find himself in the Test side at the MCG on Friday. As Illott has a history of back trouble,you would not get very long odds on someone replacing the latest replacement before this tour is much older.

Gatting began his Test career with a whimper (53 innings before his first century) and up until this weekend did not look remotely like a player who could end his current spell of 31 Test innings without a hundred. However, he really did look the part here, batting for nearly seven hours with 30 boundaries, and it will now be very difficult to leave him out (as Michael Atherton was probably intending) for the next Test.

John Crawley, who was short odds for the No 6 spot in Melbourne, did not look particularly fluent despite making 91 and figuring in a double-century partnership with Gatting, who only gave one chance, to Crawley's two, and that when he had made 193.

If Stewart's back is still giving him problems, it was hard to detect from his 53 not out, although he then ran the risk of going down with writer's cramp as he immersed himself in a near two-hour autograph signing session in between his fielding duties down at long leg.

This was very much in keeping with the social atmosphere of the occasion, with an almost full house of 5,000 crammed into the Heritage Oval on both Saturday and yesterday. The announcer had clearly done a lot of swotting for his big moment, and at one stage invited the crowd to "put your hands together" for Graham Gooch completing, wait for it, 40,500 first-class runs.

There were coloured marquees everywhere, Father Christmas made a slightly incongruous lunch-interval appearance in near 100-degree heat, and in case anyone had forgotten that Queensland are now called the Bulls, a couple of live ones were paraded around the outfield while Santa was busy melting underneath his red and white suit.

The combination of the heat and a flat pitch meant that it was not much fun for bowlers, and although England's attack took a bit of stick, particularly from Stuart Law (91 off 88 balls with 10 fours and a six), Devon Malcolm was conspicuously faster than Craig McDermott.

Even so, whatever the announcer might think, it still remains less appropriate to put your hands together for England as to keep your fingers crossed.