Malcolm back in England frame

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Devon Malcolm's hopes of playing for England in the next Test rose sharply yesterday thanks to a damp and grassy strip of turf at The Wanderers ground.

The Derbyshire fast bowler's chances of facing South Africa this week are remote after a thoroughly disappointing performance against Orange Free State in Bloemfontein.

But the England manager, Ray Illingworth, took one look at the pitch being prepared for the second Test, which starts in Johannesburg tomorrow, and said: "We've not discounted Devon at this stage. He's well in the running if they leave all that grass on it."

According to Illingworth's information, there are no plans to give the pitch another cut before play starts but Ashley Harvey-Walker, the former Derbyshire batsman who now serves as ground consultant to the Transvaal Cricket Board, indicated yesterday that the mower would be used once more before 10.30 on Thursday.

If it is, Malcolm's prospects of playing are likely to disappear along with the surplus grass. If not, he could find himself in a four-man England pace attack.

The tourists - and Illingworth in particular - would be loath to go into a Test without a front-line spinner. But the manager is ruling nothing out at this stage, insisting that no firm decisions will be taken until shortly before start of play.

The spinner Richard Illingworth did not bowl during England's net session yesterday because of a stiff back but both he and Angus Fraser (slight groin strain) are expected to be fully fit by Thursday.

n The Gloucestershire left-arm seamer Mike Smith has been released from the England A tour of Pakistan. Smith's rib cartilage injury has not cleared up sufficiently for him to be in contention for a Test place either in Rawalpindi tomorrow or next week in Peshawar.

Martin Johnson talks to Jack Russell, page 18