Gough to raise ambition

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The Independent Online
For England finally to come up against some Indian resistance last week was no bad thing. Since David Lloyd's accession as coach at the start of the season, the team had been riding a wave of success which looked as if it would engulf everything in its way. It was an illusion, of course, and while Lloyd's tendency to talk up even the most modest achievements is no doubt founded in good psychological practice, what happened at Lord's was a reminder that England still have some way to go before they become the team of their ambitions.

The party for the third and final Test, starting at Trent Bridge on Thursday, is likely to be largely the same, but England will want their performance to be rather different. To an extent they created a problem for themselves in the Second Test by fielding an all-seam bowling attack. That decision put one in mind of what is often said about winning the toss: either you bat, or you think about it and then bat. It should be the same with a spin bowler: either you include one in the XI automatically, or you think about it and then do so.

The trouble was that there was a feeling in the England camp that the presence of Min Patel in the XI for the First Test at Edgbaston was largely academic. On a pitch of such variable pace and bounce, an extra seamer might have given them an even more comprehensive victory. That, however, would be to overlook the useful job Patel did on the Saturday afternoon when he tied down Sachin Tendulkar for a few overs at a time when the little maestro was beginning to wreak serious havoc.

Having decided that Patel wasn't worth his place on a Lord's wicket that might actually have offered him some help, England committed themselves to an attack which lacked that vital quality, variety. All the seamers bowled well at times; at others, Peter Martin strained, Dominic Cork lost his sparkle, and Alan Mullally banged it in too short, denying almost all possibility of movement either in the air or off the wicket. Only Chris Lewis consistently gave batsmen something to think about.

Even given the Indians' strength on the front foot, a fuller length is surely what the England bowlers need to be aiming for, and for that reason the return of Yorkshire's Darren Gough would be welcome. Martin and Mullally would be the men under threat if England wanted an XI that included both Gough and Patel.

As long as Jack Russell can produce innings like his 124, variety in England's batting will never be a problem. Always a quirky figure at the crease, Russell's unique method comes with added eccentricity this summer: the sway to the leg-side after the ball has passed the outside of the bat; the occasional skip forward before the ball is bowled; the more usual skip back that puts him in danger of getting out hit wicket. But while his technique is one that no aspiring player should be allowed to look at, Russell's powers as an irritant to the opposition are without equal.

Of the men from whom runs are expected, rather than merely hoped for, Graeme Hick is most in need of a decent score. Three successive failures and two poor shots have once again revealed the more problematic side to his nature, and further evidence of his troubled state - he says he is feeling jaded at the moment - came when he dropped Sachin Tendulkar off Lewis.

When Tendulkar was out a few overs later, it looked as if India would fade from a picture in which at no stage had they figured very prominently since they arrived here in early May. The subsequent efforts with the bat of the two debutants, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, allied to the excellence of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad with the ball, may have been responsible for thwarting England, but they rescued the series as a contest.

It has taken a long time for new characters to emerge from the Indian side, but now that they have done so, it is a shame that they will not be around for much longer. That is the problem with three-Test series, though. It is possible, as with the visit of South Africa two years ago, for a series to develop momentum, for a drama to unfold, over such a short period. More often, though, one is left feeling a little short-changed.

Four-Test series are rare but not unknown. In the three years that the World Cup took place in this country - 1975, 1979 and 1983 - England had series against Australia, India and New Zealand that each comprised four matches. Within the last seven years, West Indies, India and South Africa have all played host to four-Test series. There is no law against them.

Matters have not been helped this summer by a Second Test match which even without its longeurs would probably have been overshadowed by Euro 96. A really competitive Test at Trent Bridge would be good for everybody, and there were at least some signs from Lord's that we may get one.

Probable 13: Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Thorpe, Hick, Irani, Russell, Lewis, Cork, Gough, Martin, Mullally, Patel.

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