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Australia put faith in Taylor

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Friday 18 April 1997

THE Australian selectors have named a powerful and experienced party of 17 men to tour England this summer, retaining Mark Taylor as captain and deciding to put faith, after a winter of experiments, in the natural brilliance of Michael Slater and Ricky Ponting. Paul Reiffel and Matthew Hayden are the most notable omissions, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Stuart Law is another player surprisingly not required by Australia and that they should not need (at least until anyone gets injured) a batsman and all-round cricketer of such obvious excellence as Law is testimony to the strength of the chosen party.

Law, Essex supporters will hardly need reminding, scored 12 hundreds in all county competitions last season, despite missing a month of the season, and in a semi-final at the Oval he savaged the left-arm fast bowling of Brendon Julian who has been preferred to him now as the utility all-rounder.

On paper England are unlikely to be a match for the putative world champions but three problem areas will have to be overcome if an improving England team are not to spring a genuine surprise by ending the run of four Australian triumphs since Allan Border's 1989 side first pointed irrefutably to weaknesses from top to bottom in the pyramid of cricket in the UK.

Taylor has to re-establish himself as an opening batsman after 20 Test innings without a fifty since scoring 96 against Sri Lanka at Perth in December 1995; a No 3 will have to establish himself; and they will not be able to get away in England with Michael Bevan at No 7 in the batting order and only two fast bowlers.

It would be doing Mike Atherton and his team a great service if the county bowlers whom the Australians will face in the whistle-stop circuit which will pass for their preparation for the first Test at Edgbaston can continue Taylor's run of bad form. He has not looked a Test batsman all winter but the painful truth is that a tour of England has proved a great tonic in the recent past for established players out of form. Taylor scored 839 Test runs at an average of 83 in 1989 and 428 at 42 as captain four years ago.

If England can attack this potential weak point early, however, they have a real chance to disrupt their opposition. For a number of reasons Australia have still not settled on their best top three and the Waughs, those twin towers of strength, have provided the necessary stability, helped by Greg Blewett's successful re-introduction at six.

Taylor has declined; Slater was controversially dropped after some rash batting in India last October; Ponting likewise despite a dashing innings of 88 against the West Indies at Brisbane; Matthew Elliott averaged 40 against South Africa but was out for half the season because of the knee injury he sustained when colliding with Mark Waugh in mid-pitch; Hayden has been discarded as a flat-track bully; and Justin Langer almost goes on more tours than he plays Tests. A brave left-hander, he has played eight Tests so far but been given no chance to settle.

Given Glenn McGrath's continued excellence - the Coopers and Lybrand world ratings now put him second only to Curtly Ambrose - and the promising starts made by Jason Gillespie, who is seriously good, and Andrew Bichel - the only surprise preference among the bowlers is for Michael Kasprowicz over Reiffel, despite the latter's 17 wickets in four Tests this winter at 21. Kasprowicz is a similar sort of bowler, younger, with a good record in England.

Australia have won 14 Tests to England's two since his first tour but despite franking their reputation as the best team in the world through winning series against the West Indies at home and South Africa away during the last six months, they have had an exhausting and confusing season's cricket.

The tour begins against the Duke of Norfolk's XI at Arundel on May 15 and includes three one-day internationals and six Tests.

Darren Lehmann has been pencilled in as Yorkshire's replacement for Slater but Surrey have elected to do without an overseas player this season. Already the increase of Test or one-day series elsewhere during the English season is making the annual reliance on an ``overseas star'' an outdated concept.

Slater's return was earned by himself as well as by the frailities of Taylor and others. He averaged nearly 50 in the Sheffield Shield. He scored 1,275 runs at an average of more than 53 in England in 1993, including a maiden Test century in the second Test at Lord's.

The decision to recall him came late; so did the idea that the wicketkeeper, Ian Healy, aware of a strong challenge to his place from Adam Gilchist, should be relieved of the vice-captaincy after several disciplinary incidents during the recent South African tour. Steve Waugh, who could take over as captain should Taylor fail in the first six weeks of the tour, is a cricketer of ice-cool temperament.

Hayden's omission presents Hampshire with an overseas batsman who has already scored prolifically in England and who will have a burning ambition to prove the selectors wrong, but Slater is, without doubt, the classier batsman. Apart from Hayden and Reiffel, Adam Dale and Michael DiVenuto have been overlooked after playing in the one-day series in South Africa.

Taylor told a news conference yesterday he expected to last out the tour: ``I've been appointed for the tour of England and I'm looking forward to playing six Test matches as captain.'' If he does, Australia will probably have retained the Ashes.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:30