Twelth Man: Roulette win earns a crust

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WAS IT a sign of confidence or madness, a case of tempting the gods or banishing the winter phobia? Certainly one or two eyebrows were raised and stomachs rumbled among the England party when they sat down for dinner in Manchester on Tuesday night and were presented with prawns.

With just a solitary large one on each plate - to Mike Gatting's dismay - it looked like a game of crustacean roulette, but, after Graham Gooch had nervously hoped that 'lightning won't strike twice' all reported fine the following morning. The Manchester Ship Canal is obviously a cleaner source of food than the Bay of Bengal.

THE BIG question as the Test unfolds at Old Trafford is have Fletcher's boys got it in them to regain their uncoveted title? Or will Taylor's turnips retain the mantle of England's premier sporting joke throughout the summer? The nation's comedians stand by.

AND ON that subject, among the responses to last week's appeal for a more suitable animal to replace the lion rampant on England's caps were willow tit, lemming, duck, red squirrel, mole ('doesn't like being in the sun' - Craig Johnston of Edinburgh) and cow ('udderly useless, spends all day grazing on grass' - Geoff Young of Forest Hill, London). The suggestions of Richard Sibbald of Fareham, Hampshire (hippo - 'slow, ponderous, lazy and immobile') and Canterbury's Ralph Leighton (ostrich for the selectors - 'dislikes flying, head in sand') were disqualified as not being indigenous animals. That left Ken Charisse of Romsey, Hants, the winner of the bottle of Aberlour whisky for his nomination of the dormouse: 'hirsute appearance, facing extinction, moribund in winter, torpid in summer and commonly found in Essex.'

Suggestions are invited this week for alternative uses for Merv Hughes' moustache - clean ones.

KENT'S latest Western Australian import, Duncan Spencer, was ready with his passport as the Severn Bridge loomed up last week. He was quite surprised when the booths turned out to be occupied not by customs officers but by toll collectors. Spencer, en route to play Glamorgan with the Kent second team, had been told by compatriot Martin McCague that he needed his passport to enter Wales. 'It was a bit of a wind-up and he fell for it,' said McCague, who admitted to believing his team-mates last year when they told him English money wasn't valid in Scotland.

TWO-THIRDS of Indians in a recent poll said they believed Indian Airlines was unsafe to travel with. 'Is that all?' was the response of England's winter tourists, who suffered a series of unnerving bumpy landings and delayed flights with the domestic carrier culminating in the frightening incident when a plane hit a bird creating a hole in the fuselage.

They were lucky. In the first four months of the year there were two accidents, one killing 75 people, and four hijacks, one by a man armed with nothing more lethal than a hair-dryer, another with a ball of dough.

SATURDAY SURFIE - No 3: Shane Warne's beer gut. This first received international attention when its owner made his Test debut against India in Jan 1992. Despite the presence of many kindred spirits on the Sydney Hill, Warne was overcome by the size of the occasion - or perhaps by the smell of pies and pints drifting across the oval - and took 1 for 150. It was nearly another 200 runs until he took his second wicket.

But, during the off-season, Warne's beer gut mysteriously disappeared leaving the new slim-line leggie to take on the West Indies alone. Huge success has made him a key figure, sparking rumours that Warne himself 'rubbed out' the belly to claim the insurance money and a stack of wickets on the side.

Q & A: Highlight: XXXX clinching the sponsorship, apparently Ryvita were in for it. Favourite TV programme: Cannon. The Food & Drink Show Influences: Used to be Jack Simmons and David Shepherd, now Jane Fonda. Opinions on cricket: Longer lunches required. Favourite player: Mike Gatting. Do you surf?: Big surfer - Warne was riding the waves when he heard of his first Australian selection.