Hollioake primed to make a point

Australia provides England A with a stern test of ability, says Derek Pringle
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One hundred and fifty years ago, a trip to Australia usually meant two things: a long sea voyage and the start of a new life in testing circumstances. Later today the England A team embark for the same destination, but if air travel has drastically shrunk the journey time, the circumstances remain, and harsh treatment awaits them.

Since their regular inception seven years ago, England A tours have achieved several notable successes. Apart from the goodwill they manage to generate in places such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka - underblessed by the presence of England's main team - they have also helped school and mature the likes of Graham Thorpe and Dominic Cork, both key members of the current Test side.

Initially sceptical, Australia too have now embraced the A team habit, although in truth they probably believe theirs too strong for the Pommie equivalent, who failed to win a single first-class game against weakened state opposition there four years ago.

It is a brag not entirely without foundation, and one given further credibility following the embarrassing (at least from England's point of view) World Series final on the last Ashes tour, when Australia's "One" and "Two" competed against one another as if in a breezy trial for the America's Cup, England and Zimbabwe both having been eliminated in the preliminary stages.

It is this superior view of things that the team coach, Mike Gatting, and his captain, Adam Hollioake, are determined to alter. Gatting, a late replacement for Graham Gooch - who withdrew once his father's illness was diagnosed - is one of the few England captains to have tasted success in Australia, winning back the Ashes in 1986-87.

Apart from preparing the next generation of cricketers to play in England colours, Gatting believes there is important Ashes reconnaissance to be done on this tour, before the Australians' visit next summer.

Hollioake, Australian born, but English schooled, has a more myopic view of the trip, however, believing that England have a long overdue point to prove to their hosts, that only victory can uphold.

"Keeping an eye out for who they might have for next summer is Gatt's job," Hollioake said after a knock against the Surrey bowling machine in the indoor nets on Monday. "I don't want to get involved with that. I just want to beat them, winning every game if we can."

Although such dominance, particularly on recent evidence, is unlikely, the selectors have foregone the recent accent on youth to make the squad more competitive.

Instead, they have opted for a 14-man squad that blends the experience of recent Test cricketers such as Peter Such, Craig White, Jason Gallian and Mark Ealham, with the promise of players like Mark Butcher and Ashley Giles, through to the decidedly damp-eared 18-year-old, Owais Shah.

There are, as Gatting dutifully points out, possible places up for grabs in the senior team next summer for those who perform well. More importantly though, it will be really young players like Shah who are likely to be best served by early exposure to the Australian brand of non-filtertipped cricket.

However, if the trips of predecessors are anything to go by, it will be the seam bowling trio of Glenn Chapple, Dean Headley and Derbyshire's Andy Harris who will find conditions toughest.

Australians have long harboured a view that all English fast bowlers are pie throwers and, despite being seduced by tales of quick pitches and trampoline bounce, few have fared well. It is important the new ball is not squandered, and concentration will be almost as crucial as aggression when furnace-like winds blow in from the red interior.

Despite the absence of any representative match, the important games for England A will be the four-day matches against South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, as well as the match against the Academy at Mount Gambier. There is no such thing as an easy game in Australia and England A will do well to remind themselves of that at every available opportunity.

ENGLAND A SQUAD TO TOUR AUSTRALIA: A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt), J E R Gallian (Lancs), M A Butcher (Surrey), M P Vaughan (Yorks), A McGrath (Yorks), O A Shah (Middx), C White (Yorks), M A Ealham (Kent), W K Hegg (Lancs), D W Headley (Kent), G Chapple (Lancs), A J Harris (Derbys), A F Giles (Warwickshire), P M Such (Essex). Tour manager: D A Graveney. Coach: M W Gatting. Physiotherapist: D Conway. ITINERARY: 31 Oct-3 Nov v New South Wales 2nd XI (Tamworth); 6 Nov v South Australia (Adelaide Oval); 8-11 Nov v South Australia (Adelaide Oval). 15-18 Nov v Australian Cricket Academy (Mount Gambier); 21-24 Nov v Victoria (MCG, Melbourne); 28 Nov v Australia Capital Territory (Manuka, Canberra); 30 Nov-3 Dec v Australia Capital Territory (Manuka, Canberra); 5 Dec v New South Wales (SCG, Sydney); 7 Dec v New South Wales (Woolongong); 10-13 Dec v Queensland (Gabba, Brisbane).