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England stick to formula for final rematch

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

19 December 1997


IN unchanged conditions against a side they have already beaten, England's most successful touring team in recent memory have every chance of using a proven tactical formula to defeat the West Indies today in the final of the quadrangular tournament in Sharjah. The prize for doing so is the Akai Singer Champions' Trophy and a little over 35,000.

Its significance should not be exaggerated: this is one of many international limited-overs competitions which in some parts of the world have devalued Test cricket. Equally, it should not be under-estimated. Commercial forces cannot be ignored and neither the tournament nor England's part in it deserve to be denigrated. After all, the success of the national side is what everyone involved with English cricket has been striving for. Winning a one-day tournament against three other Test countries, wherever the cricket is played and no matter how the circumstances might for once have conspired in England's favour, would be a considerable achievement.

Anyone involved with any sport knows the truth of the adage that success breeds success. A second victory this evening against the West Indies in a 50-over floodlit match need not presage further triumphs in the Caribbean after Christmas. Conditions, circumstances, atmosphere and personalities will all be different.

But there are positive vibes to be picked up from what, if all goes well today, would be an unbeaten tour, starting with the two preparatory matches against Pakistan A in Lahore and continuing with wins here by seven runs against India, four wickets against West Indies and 18 runs against Pakistan.

It is easy to think that such success is isolated. In fact England in this tournament will only have confirmed their official Coopers and Lybrand international rating if they win this evening: third behind South Africa and Sri Lanka. Their performance against those two countries in English conditions next summer will therefore be a truer guide to their chances of winning the World Cup in England in 1999.

Three wins against Australia earlier this year under Mike Atherton raised England's stock and it has been further enhanced here, to a large extent because of Adam Hollioake's all-round leadership. Much will be made, inevitably, of the relative positions of Atherton, captain of the touring team to the West Indies and Hollioake, under whom Atherton may or may not be selected to play in the internationals at the end of the tour. Both men are shrewd enough not to let this become a problem as, for example, the Walsh v Lara gossip has become for the West Indies.

Hollioake recognises, with the open-eyed, ingenuous frankness which is part of his charm, that everything has worked to his favour here, including the use of the same pitch for all four of England's games, the day's rest after each qualifying match, the shortness of the trip, which has kept the team fresh and their goal in focus, and the happy co-incidence, if such it is, that a team of extroverts have gelled from the start.

Matthew Fleming for one believes that this is in fact no coincidence: the best one-day cricketers are all, he maintains, extroverts. As if to prove the point, Graham Thorpe, whose very English instinct is to hide his light under a bushel, seized the microphone on Wednesday night at an official dinner given by the Emirates Cricket Board for the teams still in Sharjah and gave an imitation of Geoffrey Boycott's commentary which Rory Bremner himself could not have bettered.

Nor has Alec Stewart been noted for letting his hair down off the field; but there he was dancing belly to belly on the stage with a gyrating dancer and getting as big an ovation for it as he rightly has for his sparkling wicketkeeping up to the stumps in support of England's medium-pacers.

Stewart and Thorpe will be central figures again today and in the West Indies after Christmas. Their present captain, Hollioake, said the right things yesterday about the greater challenge ahead: ``Today's game won't bear any resemblance to the matches to come in the West Indies. Even for the one-day games the conditions will be different from here and different from island to island. The duty of the five guys from this party who are also touring the West Indies will be to take the positive feel forward.''

Favourable circumstances accepted, Hollioake has certainly set an example here, not least in the important matter of public relations, which involves both dealings with the press and with the locals. His side are likely to be unchanged this afternoon on a pitch which, after two days' rest and a chance for the ground-staff to water and roll it, should have regained a little of what limited pace it originally had.

In the expectation that it will not, therefore, turn so much as its neighbouring strip did on Tuesday, and on the principle of ``if it ain't bust don't fix it'' England will leave slow left-armer Ashley Giles in the dressing-room.

David Lloyd, the coach, has talked of promoting Fleming as a second dasher up front, but this, too, will be resisted. The West Indies, by contrast, are making a change. Philo Wallace has been dropped - sadly, for an ambitious cricketer he is unlikely to appear in international cricket again - and Roland Holder will come into the middle order with Shivnarine Chanderpaul going in first. If the latter succeeds it may take some pressure off Brian Lara, who has gone 12 international matches without making a hundred and has the look of a man who is not enjoying his cricket.

Potentially, of course, he is the most explosive player on either side but England will hope to shackle him by accurate bowling and sharp fielding. Of Lara's relationship with Courtney Walsh, the coach, Malcolm Marshall, said yesterday: ``They are very close but people are trying to make as much bad news as possible. He loves playing for his country. Naturally, some day he would like to be captain.''

Curiously enough, the West Indies probably need to win today more than England. Cricket politics in the Caribbean may work to England's advantage in the new year but for the moment their job is to try to confirm that on neutral territory they are a better one-day side.

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

West Indies (probable): S Chanderpaul, S C Williams, B C Lara, C L Hooper, R I C Holder, P V Simmons, -D Williams, F A Rose, R N Lewis, M Dillon, *C A Walsh.


Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:33