Gough under threat as Emburey eases back

Cricket

Darren Gough, England's dazzler six months ago, is likely to be dropped from the team for the fourth Test starting at Old Trafford on Thursday. That must be the conclusion to be drawn from the choice of two all-rounders, Mike Watkinson and Craig White, both of whom bowl seam, and that of the veteran off- spinner John Emburey in the 13-man squad.

There seems little point in calling up all three of the above unless the intention is to play them. If that happens one bowler will have to go and the prime candidate, sadly for the box office and the fan club, is The Dazzler. The final decision will not be made until the covers come off on Thursday morning and Gough's place will be saved only if, after all, the selectors conclude there is no possibility of a spinner's gaining any purchase.

One of Raymond Illingworth's greatest pleasures, almost as satisfying as winning a match, is that of wrong-footing the pundits. The chairman did it for the first Test with Richard Illingworth; he did it for the third Test with Jason Gallian; and he did it again yesterday by naming Emburey.

The other 12 players in the squad had all been mentioned somewhere: Jack Russell returning as wicketkeeper; Nick Knight opening the innings; White returning to compete for the all-rounder's place; and Watkinson to play on his home ground. Emburey, who last played two years ago, was the shaker.

Emburey should not have been a surprise. Cricket conversation everywhere has revolved around his excellent form, his experience, his nous; there was a latent suspicion that sooner or later "Ernie" would be in the reckoning. His selection for Manchester suggests that England are expecting the pitch to turn, and if Emburey, Watkinson and Graeme Hick all play then Mike Atherton will have three contrasting off-spinners with which to tax West Indies' left-handers.

Knight, a left-hander, is to open with Atherton. He is, as he says, "more of a fighter than a strokeplayer. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in". Robin Smith is moving up to No 3, Hick dropping to five. If White enters at six and Watkinson at seven, Dominic Cork at eight and Russell at nine that leaves two places.

Emburey takes one and Gus Fraser is certain to be preferred to Gough in English conditions. Gough and John Crawley seem to be the pair most likely to be rejoining their counties on Thursday morning. Crawley, it seems, has been passed over as an opener and remains as the stand-by for a middle-order place, probably Hick's if there should be another failure.

Gough watchers would not be too amazed at his exclusion. Since his return home from the winter tour with a foot injury this ebullient Yorkshireman has struggled to find the magic that made him such a success in Australia. Neither with bat nor ball has he been especially effective for county or country; the versatility in his bowling, that surprised Australia, seems to have deserted him. He can still produce the quick ball but Test match batsmen are rarely defeated by speed alone if the bounce is true and the ball does not deviate. On an Edgbaston pitch that made Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop irresistible, Gough was a nonentity.

He might have saved his place had he been able to contribute more runs but again, his touch seems to have gone. He now appears to lack that judgement that enabled him to pick the right ball to hit.

If Gough were to bowl out Durham at Harrogate today he would at least reassure the selectors that he can still win matches. Until then he may leave the immediate Test match planning and the vacancy he leaves gives England a possible batting order in which only Fraser could be classed a rabbit.

As both Illingworth and Atherton have pointed out repeatedly, the team's current weakness is the inability to build a decent total in the first innings. With Russell, who is averaging 47, at nine this team should at least have a stiffened tail. Fraser and Cork would then presumably take the new ball with Watkinson, White, Emburey and possibly Hick to follow.

If that order barely passes muster for a Test match attack, unless the pitch is turning, then remember that the priority in this contest is not to lose. England dare not go 3-1 down with two matches left. The minimal objective must be to draw this match and then prepare for a counter-attack at Trent Bridge and at The Oval where, presumably, Devon Malcolm will be wound up and switched on.

ENGLAND SQUAD (fourth Test v West Indies, Old Trafford, Thursday): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt) age 27, Tests 48; N V Knight (Warwickshire) 25, 0; G A Hick (Worcestershire) 29, 35; G P Thorpe (Surrey) 25, 18; R A Smith (Hampshire) 31, 56; J P Crawley (Lancashire) 23, 6; C White (Yorkshire) 25, 4; M Watkinson (Lancashire) 33, 0; D G Cork (Derbyshire) 23, 2; R C Russell (Gloucestershire, wkt) 31, 36; D Gough (Yorkshire) 24, 10; J E Emburey (Middlesex) 42, 63; A R C Fraser (Middlesex) 29, 26.

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