Headley set for the England call-up

The England selectors, clearly not content with the perks of the job, are continuing to explore their powers over the counties. After getting the odd player a game off between Tests they are now asking clubs, as in the case of Kent's Dean Headley against Cambridge University, to pick players that might otherwise have been rested. It is a reversal that might not prove popular with the player concerned, though in Headley's case it could well be the passport to a first Test cap at Old Trafford next week.

The request, which, rain permitting, will double as a fitness test, came after the selectors met up with Mike Atherton and David Lloyd at The Belfry on Wednesday. With Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch playing more than 200 miles apart on Saturday, the squad for the third Test was probably finalised as well. Only a few late calls to check up on Devon Malcolm's badly bruised foot and the result of the cortisone injection on Nasser Hussain's elbow, will be made before tomorrow's announcement.

Depending upon the fitness of those two players, England are likely to add rather than subtract to the team that played at Lord's. Only Adam Hollioake is likely to be missing, the Surrey captain proving superfluous to a squad whose batting options - despite the first innings collapse at Lord's - were always likely to be set in stone, once Mark Butcher had battled his way to 87 in the last Test.

Continuity, so long a catchword of this selection panel, may therefore be about to be tested. But while the fortuitous draw from the Lord's Test allows them to be loyal to the batsmen, the unknown nature of the damp strip currently hiding beneath the covers at Old Trafford will have persuaded them to increase the pace bowling choices available.

Unless the Harmattan suddenly blows in over Manchester, those front-runners are likely to be Headley, Gloucestershire's Mike Smith and Essex's Ashley Cowan. Of the three, it is only Headley who has seen action on the field of play for England and although his forays have been limited to one-day internationals, there are those who feel it is time to reward the glowing apprenticeship served with England A.

None would have been closer than Gatting last Tuesday in the NatWest Trophy match, and the selector (and Middlesex batsman) was said to be impressed as Headley's 3 for 31 helped keep Kent in a game far longer than their timid score deserved.

There is little doubt that when he bowls Headley can be brilliant. It is only his robustness that is questioned, particularly after a recent scan for stress fractures to his back proved clear.

Next in line would almost certainly be Smith, a left-arm swing bowler and at present the highest wicket-taker in the country. A quiet, undemonstrative man, his lack of height (5ft 9in) may go against him, despite the welcoming rough he would produce for Robert Croft outside the right-hander's off- stump.

At 6ft 4in, however, the boldest choice would be the 21-year old Cowan; not because of what he can and cannot do with a ball, but because no one is quite sure what goes on between those loppy red ears of his.

Despite the dopey demeanour, his is a burgeoning talent which should be blooded sooner rather than later. Certainly his attributes - steep bounce and natural shape away from the right-hander - are better suited to Test cricket than the other two bowlers and should be honed forthwith.

While the whole of England contemplates sporting and popfest ruin, the wettest June for 15 years continues to assist England's chances of regaining the Ashes. Having helped the home side overcome their Lord's bogey by reducing play to a manageable vignette, the persistent deluge has continued its patriotic alliance by confining the Australians to barracks, where the newly found bounce to their stride will have begun to get foot rot.

Nothing eats away at morale than being cooped up with blokes you have already spent a great deal of time with. While some like Glenn McGrath will catch up on some well earned rest, those who have not seen the middle recently, will be questioning the sanity of yet more training and indoor nets.

Australia are desperate to give players such as Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and the now recovered Jason Gillespie some cricket. However, with more rain forecast, Gillespie may not get the run out that he needs and Australia will demand.

POSSIBLE ENGLAND SQUAD (v Australia, Old Trafford, Thursday): 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 E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell, D W Headley, A P Cowan.

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