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Masterstroke of one-day timing

By Paul Newman

22 March 1998

THE scene was Cape Town, two years ago, and the final Test of England's tour of South Africa. All attention was supposed to be focused on a game that would decide an evenly-balanced series. Instead, chaos reigned.

The two dressing-rooms assigned to England at Newlands were a jumble of assorted players, four Test participants in one and seven in the other, the space being filled by the one-day specialists who had arrived to take part in the seven-match limited overs series which followed. The result - a chasening last Test defeat, a 6-1 thrashing in the one-dayers and an ignominous World Cup campaign afterwards. This time, England hope, things will be different.

``We must get the timing right,'' mused David Lloyd, the England coach, late last year when debating the probability of a number of one-day changes at the end of this Test series, conscious that there were also those who found out, in the middle of a home Test against Pakistan in 1996, that they would be surplus to one-day requirements. In this, it seems, England have for once stolen a march on Australia.

The issue of very different teams for the different forms of cricket is a delicate one, with both England and Australia deciding in their own ways to go down the specialists path. Only it appears that the Australians are making Cape Town-like mistakes, with their Indian Test party seemingly disrupted by news of imminent one-day changes and talk of division in the camp over the one-day leadership of Steve Waugh ahead of Mark Taylor. The selectors have suffered more than a little condemnation.

``The teams who have traditionally dominated one-day internationals for any length of time have all picked their best players,'' said Greg Chappell, the former Australian captain and selector.

``The Sri Lankan one-day and Test teams, for instance, are exactly the same. The world of cricket has been bluffed by Sanath Jayasuriya. Everyone thinks he's a slogger but if you watch the bloke play, then you realise he's a very good cricketer. If Australia are not careful this could lead to the demise of one-day cricket.''

England do not see it this way. Adam Hollioake and Robert Croft left Antigua yesterday morning to join the six one-day reinforcements in Barbados where David Graveney has stayed to supervise practice ahead of next Sunday's opening international at the Kensington Oval. Michael Atherton, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, Dean Headley, Mark Ramprakash, Angus Fraser and Jack Russell will join them on Wednesday when the more important business of the sixth Test is completed. For the rest of the Test party, the tour will then be over and they will have an increasingly rare chance to grab brief recuperation before the earliest start to a domestic season.

``The timing of the announcement was a hell of a lot better this time,'' said Nasser Hussain, the vice-captain not selected for the one-day side and who, instead of celebrating his 30th birthday on Saturday in Bridgetown, will at least now be able to attend Essex team-mate Ronnie Irani's wedding. ``Of course, we all want to play in all forms of cricket because playing for England is a bug, but the priority has always been the Test series and the way the one-day business has been handled has allowed us to concentrate solely on the Antigua match.''

Avoiding the one-day rough and tumble can, surely, only be beneficial to players faced with the prospect of Tests against South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia in the year ahead, which is why Atherton's one-day involvement here is questionable. Yet the considerable carrot of a World Cup in England next year is at the back of everyone's mind. Phil Tufnell, the one current England player who leaves for home on Wednesday and who was involved in the 1992 World Cup, said: ``That final was the only time when I felt the whole country was truly following us. I thought, 'We could be national heroes here - I could be Bobby Moore'.''

That chance of home World Cup glory will always make the demotion of Test players difficult - but at least England are going about it in the right way. In the meantime the players could hardly feel more at ease than both here and in Barbados where mass English support has, maybe uniquely in world sporting terms, virtually turned the away team into the 'home' side.

Similar backing was apparent at both Edgbaston and the Oval last season which was why the players were so frustrated when Roger Knight, the MCC secretary, appealed for more restrained support at Lord's before the second Test in the wake of the emotive Edgbaston victory over Australia.

The key, perhaps, is seeking Barbados and Edgbaston-like support without Headingley-like rowdism. ``It's certainly possible,'' said Hussain. ``I think it belittles people to say that the only way the British can have fun is to get drunk.''

One-Day Internationals

March 29: Barbados

April 1: Barbados

April 4: St Vincent

April 5: St Vincent

April 8: Trinidad

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 22 Mar1998 - 15:27