Stewart keeps Russell out in the cold

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The Independent Online
Twelve months ago almost to the day, Jack Russell was a national hero. Along with Ronnie Irani, he was yesterday dropped by England for today's opening four-day fixture of the tour against Mashonaland in Harare.

Russell, understandably upset, said: "It's a bitter blow inside. I would be telling lies if I said this doesn't hurt."

On 4 December last year, Russell batted for more than four hours alongside Mike Atherton on a dramatic final afternoon to save the Johannesburg Test - having earlier in the game taken a world wicketkeeping record of 11 catches.

However, Alec Stewart has been confirmed as England's first-choice wicketkeeper again - leaving Russell out in the cold. David Lloyd, the England coach, said Russell's omission was inevitable once the management had decided that five front-line bowlers were needed to provide a "cutting edge" to England's attack.

Three Tests against New Zealand follow in the new year after the two Tests and three one-day internationals against Zimbabwe either side of Christmas. Russell, however, said he was confident he could cope with being left on the sidelines, even if it became the long-term policy.

"Yes I could handle it because I have been in this position before," he said. "It will be painful not to play and it is a strange old game when you think back to a year ago.

"But there are no guarantees in life, I am not the only one not playing tomorrow, and I will be supporting the side as well as I can. It won't be a surprise now if the worst happens for me and I am left out of the Tests, but there is not very much cricket to be played before then and the guys playing in these four-day games are the ones most likely to be picked in the first Test.

"I have to try to remain optimistic. Anything can happen and I will certainly be making sure I am ready for every game.

"It's the balance of the side thing again. The all-rounder position is the key and fair play to Alec because he's a good all-round cricketer. The management have had to decide what they think their best side is and what their best policy is - that's fair enough."

Lloyd agreed that England's selection was a guide to the thinking for the first Test against Zimbabwe, which starts on 18 December. "We only have two four-day games before the international matches and we have to get our balance right. We need the cutting edge of five bowlers and Jack has been the casualty of that.

"Nick Knight will now open with the captain and Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe and John Crawley all drop down one place, which they are happy to do. We wanted to keep the batting order as stable as possible."

The fast bowlers Andy Caddick and Darren Gough both play, despite suffering from the after effects of illness and a badly blistered left foot respectively.

Zimbabwe's Test captain, Alistair Campbell, will lead a Mashonaland side which includes the leg spinner Paul Strang and the leading batsman Dave Houghton. Also playing is the fast bowler Eddo Brandes, whose three early wickets with the new ball helped embarrass England in their game against a President's XI on Sunday.

ENGLAND (v Mashonaland): M A Atherton (capt), N V Knight, A J Stewart (wkt), N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R Caddick, P C R Tufnell, A D Mullally.

England A, page 25