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Warning on Warne could work a treat

By Ted Dexter

Saturday 28 June 1997

THE increasingly exciting Ashes game of snakes and ladders continued in earnest at Lord's despite the fragmented play. The Australians definitely needed to throw some better dice after their defeat at Edgbaston and duly did so.

Glenn McGrath scotched any thoughts that he might be on the slide with career-best figures and Shane Warne showed glimpses of earlier days when he was good enough to beat the system and climb up the snakes. He was certainly climbing the ladder again.

Up a rung or two off the bottom came batsmen Mark Butcher and Matthew Elliott with allowances for the chances they gave, because every batsman needed a bit of luck until the normally placid nature of modern Lord's pitches was re-established on the Monday afternoon. Michael Atherton sat serenely on the top captaincy rung, while the popular Devon Malcolm was slipping a square or two with little to show for his selection.

Obviously, Mark Taylor can draw comfort from the fact that with more time he would have bowled England out twice, something Atherton could not be sure of on his side of the equation. Gough, Caddick (so unlucky) and Croft all now command proper respect, but there are alarmingly long spells of play when the captain seems loath to risk either Malcolm or Ealham with the ball.

This is a major concern because the winning formula against New Zealand which started the current revival was based on a full five-bowler attack, i.e., Gough, Caddick, Cork, Croft and Tufnell. The principle has already been eroded with the selection of all-rounder Mark Ealham, well enough though he justified himself at Edgbaston, scoring runs and making the final breakthrough with the ball.

If Malcolm and Ealham are to be considered as only half-bowlers then the burden on the other three may become unwieldy with the prospect of again taking 20 wickets to win another match receding all over again.

Australia's attack is certainly improved in English conditions by the presence of Reiffel but their side is still far from balanced where they depend on a few overs from the Waugh twins and Bevan's left-arm chinamen to complement the three quickies and one leggie. So the result of the series may yet rest on how strong the resurgence of Shane Warne turns out to be.

Yes, he did spin the ball more at Lord's with increased dip towards the leg side, his real trademark. Yes, he did seem happier in himself with a couple of wickets to show for his efforts. What will not have been lost on him is that England's right-handers, four of them, are playing him with much more confidence after using a common strategy which seems to work.

They are probably indebted to Australian television commentator Ian Chappell for explaining with absolute clarity that right-handers are on a loser against Warne unless they score off him on the leg side, which means breaking the old taboo of not hitting against the spin.

If Chappell is correct, the sweep and the pull are essential, with the feet and head in the right places, and it was Alec Stewart's exaggerated open stance, showing all three stumps to the bowler, in the second innings at Edgbaston that first made me think the blond Australian could be at least countered, if not tamed.

A subsequent dinner conversation with Mike Atherton confirmed that they all planned to open up in the stance, heads turned round more to leg to avoid getting tucked up and to avoid any chance of that blind spot when your nose blocks off the view of the right eye to the pitched-up leg-side ball. If that is what he means by ``batting as a unit'' then it is good news, unlike the Boycott story in which it is alleged that crucial information was shared with John Edrich only on the understanding that he was not to tell the others!

I detected a real confidence in the Atherton-inspired plan, and the Identikit method successfully employed by John Crawley at Lord's lessens the chances of England coming a cropper when the time finally comes to bat last on a real fourth or fifth-day pitch.

Coming back to the England attack, the only concern for the selectors will be Malcolm, who is now reported injured. Had England lost at Lord's, then his place would have been in greater jeopardy but the happy possibility of starting three Tests running with the same side will probably win the day.

I did question the chairman, David Graveney, as to how he came to twice pick two seam-bowling all-rounders in the 13-man squad - Adam Holioake and Ealham. ``In what circumstances could they both possibly play?'' I asked, without getting much sense by way of an answer. But handsome is as handsome does, with both the selectors and the team having a bit of luck for once.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:25