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England's prospects gleam in the desert

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

11 December 1997


THE FACT that the Sharjah Champions trophy is just another one-day tournament among so many for India and Pakistan should enhance England's prospects of winning the quadrangular contest, which begins here in the United Arab Emirates tomorrow, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

If there is any logic to cricketing form the West Indies, after their severe mauling in Pakistan, are very unlikely to reach the final a week tomorrow, although their pride and intuitive skill will surely make them difficult opponents for somebody.

Weary and anxious for home, the West Indians arrived yesterday from Karachi without Curtly Ambrose, who has returned to Antigua for treatment on a back complaint.

They rely on the remaining 14 who toured Pakistan so, like England playing overseas in the past, they are about to be engaged in a one-day tournament with a side geared mainly for Test cricket.

Some idea of their priorities, for at least some of their team, might be gleaned from the fact that tee-times at the truly splendid Emirates golf club were booked some time ago for four of the West Indians, Brian Lara among them, whereas the England players have eschewed the temptation to play there until, they hope, the cricketing job of qualifying for the final is done.

England's opening match against India, to be followed by games against the West Indies on Sunday and Pakistan on Tuesday, will be the first to be played here under the new floodlights.

The two countries from the Subcontinent, who have played at the stadium in the desert far more than any others and whose compatriots provide about 40 per cent of the total resident population of 2.2 million in the seven autonomous states of the United Arab Emirates, will undoubtedly attract the maximum official crowd of 26,000 when they play each other on Sunday.

The England players practised for three hours late yesterday afternoon, experiencing both the swift twilight and the full glare of the artificial illuminations, before announcing that Ashley Giles, Peter Martin and Ben Hollioake will be the three players omitted,

The remaining XI form just about as adaptable a side as English cricket can produce at present and what they may lack in flair vis-a-vis the Indians, they should make up for in flexibility, team spirit and singleness of purpose.

Adam Hollioake said yesterday that everyone was in form and dying to get on with the tournament proper. ``Their spirit and attitude has made the side easy to captain,'' he said.

``So has the fact that we have got so many all-rounders. In a 50-over game you need bowling options and we've got six, seven, even eight men who can bowl. Everyone's got huge aspirations, which makes it a lot easier.''

Graham Thorpe is bowler No 8, if needed, but the seven most likely to have a go with the single white ball on a ground with short straight boundaries are Dean Headley, Dougie Brown, Mark Ealham, Matthew Fleming, Hollioake, Robert Croft and Graeme Hick.

Surrey's regular opening pair in limited-overs matches, Alec Stewart and Alistair Brown, will go in first, with Nick Knight at first wicket down on a pitch of hard, rolled mud, which is as polished as a lance-corporal's boot. Here, as at Sabina Park in Jamaica, fast-bowlers approaching the stumps must feel a mite inhibited by the possibility of slipping.

The fast cars and clean white buildings of oil-rich Dubai across the border, where all the teams are staying, give way to a more familiar atmosphere of dust and pressing bodies at Sharjah, 10 miles down the road, and if the Indians are well supported this evening, they will be hard to beat.

There are incentives for Hollioake and all members of his team the one-day series in the West Indies and the 1999 World Cup.

England's new sponsors Vodafone have added a 10,000 win bonus to to the 24,000 prize available to the winners of the Champions Trophy, provided that it is their team who win.

England: *A J Hollioake, A D Brown, -A J Stewart, N V Knight, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, M A Ealham, D R Brown, M V Fleming, R D B Croft, D W Headley.


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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:14