Watkinson and Gallian called up

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The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON

Cricket Correspondent

Chopping and changing between Test matches is so ingrained on England's selectors that, winning team or not, they have been unable to kick the habit. On the other hand, given the chairman's occasional inclination to rip up the original team sheet, perhaps we should regard England's 12 for Edgbaston on Thursday as no more than a first draft.

As of this morning, however, the guillotine has descended upon Mark Ramprakash and Phillip DeFreitas, and with Jason Gallian and Mike Watkinson bringing Lancashire's complement up to four, Raymond Illingworth is also doing his patriotic bit for Yorkshire by not making it any easier for the other lot across the Pennines to advance their Championship aspirations.

Watkinson, in fact, may become one of those rare instances of a county captain playing under a team-mate in a Test match (it last happened to Mike Gatting under John Emburey after the barmaid's apron affair in 1988) and, to no one's great surprise, Michael Atherton has also been reappointed as England captain for the remainder of the summer.

The choice of Watkinson, who can bat, and bowl either seam-up or off- spin, is ostensibly to give England the option of two slow bowlers on a pitch expected to be pretty parched, although it is also a further indication (not least to the likes of Peter Such) that England players are expected to be able to do at least two jobs for one salary.

Gallian, likewise, is expected to be mentally prepared to bat either at No 1 or No 6, depending on whether Alec Stewart is considered fresh enough to open the batting after keeping wicket. Gallian has apparently volunteered for the yo-yo role without demur, although, as we discovered with Stewart at Lord's, one phone call from Illy and people start volunteering to bowl, bat, keep wicket, and drive the team bus.

Stewart, though, could yet throw a spanner into the works because of further damage to the same finger that caused him to miss two Test matches in Australia last winter. Stewart gets hit on it so often that it would not look out of place between two halves of a bread roll and smothered in mustard, and although the original diagnosis was bruising, he was planning yesterday to go for a further X-ray.

What will happen if Stewart is forced to withdraw was not discussed, but it would almost certainly involve attempting to maintain the same six batsman, five bowler policy at Lord's by using Watkinson as the all-rounder at No 6 whatever the pitch conditions, and calling up either Jack Russell or Steven Rhodes as a specialist wicketkeeper.

Illingworth went out of his way yesterday to say that England's message to Ramprakash was more "see you later" than "goodbye", but added that he felt Ramprakash had a "psychological" block against the West Indies. This was, and some think still is, an accusation levelled against Graeme Hick and, if you were to compile a list of batsmen who could justifiably cast a jaundiced eye at the special treatment given to Hick since his Test career began in 1991, Ramprakash would be close to the top of it.

Ramprakash has usually found himself cast as the disposable choice down at No 6, and a Test average in no way reflective of his talent is the inevitable by-product. The other batsman who can consider himself unlucky is John Crawley, whose achievement in losing two stones in weight has been more than matched by the selectors losing his telephone number.

With 679 runs at an average of 56, he is not exactly out of form either, and is as qualified as Gallian to open an innings if required. For all Illingworth's reservations about Crawley's on-side bias against the swinging delivery, he has worked as hard on this as he has in fighting the flab.

Gallian, on the other hand, deserves encouragement after a successful A tour, even though his background and upbringing is yet another case of entering muddy waters in the area of qualification. It is not Gallian's fault that the system is as it is but, if you asked him to sing the national anthem, you would not be hugely surprised to hear him burst into a chorus of "Advance Australia Fair".

ENGLAND 12 (Third Cornhill Test v West Indies, Edgbaston, starting Thursday): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), G A Hick (Worcestershire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), R A Smith (Hampshire), J E R Gallian (Lancashire), D G Cork (Derbyshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), P J Martin (Lancashire), R K Illingworth (Worcestershire), A R C Fraser (Middlesex), M Watkinson (Lancashire).

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