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England must gamble with two-pronged spin attack

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

2 July 1998

NO LESS downcast than any other sporting followers by the departure of their footballing brethren from the World Cup, England's cricketers nevertheless have an opportunity in Manchester over the next five days to reclaim the centre of the summer stage, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

The pitch at Old Trafford is drying fast and if they are to defeat South Africa in the third Cornhill Test they must have the courage to play both spinners, Robert Croft and Ashley Giles.

Speaking after a long session keeping wicket to them both, Alec Stewart, England's captain, said that two spinners are ``definitely an option''. Although the largely bare strip, which turned whiter by the hour during a bright and breezy day yesterday, is certain to turn significantly only for wrist spinners - South Africa have one in Paul Adams; England, sadly, do not - it is hard to think that there will not be some crumbling where the bowlers follow through. Ian Healy was keeping up to the stumps in a helmet by the fourth day last year. Three fast bowlers should be sufficient on a surface being used for a first-class match for only the second time after being relaid. An attack of Cork, Gough, Fraser, Croft and Giles would leave England distinctly second best when it comes to outfielding and it would mean leaving out Ben Hollioake, but if Stewart wants as many options as possible to work his way through the long South African batting order this seems the obvious route to take.

For their part, South Africa's only change will be the return of Gerry Liebenberg for Adam Bacher, who had to go to hospital yesterday for a scan on the shoulder injury incurred in the outfield at Lord's. Allan Donald and Lance Klusener will bowl fast on anything and Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis will swing the ball anywhere too, but as a group they may enjoy the conditions less than they did at Lord's.

England made 462 at Edgbaston and the issue will hang again on whether they can get on top of Donald and Pollock, who have taken 173 wickets between them (Donald 102, Pollock 71) in the 21 Tests they have played together. The return of a left-handed opening partner for Mike Atherton will enhance England's chances, especially as Nick Knight is in the best form of his life, having scored 498 runs in his last four innings in different competitions.

South Africa, confident after their 10-wicket win at Lord's, are entering the game under a cloud after a complaint to their coach, Bob Woolmer, by the Cambridge captain, the Indian born Anurag Singh, during the match against the British Universities at Fenner's last week. Singh claimed the young South African fast bowler Nantie Hayward had elbowed him in the ribs as he completed a run. Afterwards he was the object of repeated verbal abuse during his innings of 64, though he may have invited some of it by reacting to Hayward's impetuosity and by an approach his opponents apparently thought too cocky.

Stewart felt that England's behaviour at Lord's generally stayed the right side of the line between disappointment and dissent. He is more concerned with repeated failures, both by England's batsmen and bowlers, in the first innings of Test matches. The winning chance had gone when England lost six second-innings wickets for 11 runs at Lord's but the matter of collapses was discussed at a team meeting on Tuesday night with Stephen Bull, the sports psychologist. Whether the failings under extreme pressure have been mental or technical is debatable.

The fact is that England's record at Old Trafford has taken a distinct turn for the worse since the South Africans enjoyed one of their most famous victories in this country here in 1955. Until then England had lost only twice on the ground: since they have been beaten 11 times, including last year, when Australia were 42 for three in their first innings and 39 for three in their second before making totals of 235 and 395 for eight. If England are to improve they have to learn to seize the moment.

England (from): +*A J Stewart, M A Atherton, N V Knight, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, B C Hollioake, D G Cork, R D B Croft, D Gough, A R C Fraser, D W Headley, A F Giles.

South Africa (from): *W J Cronje, G Kirsten, G F J Liebenberg, J H Kallis, D J Cullinan,, J N Rhodes, S M Pollock, L Klusener, +M V Boucher, P R Adams, A A Donald, B M McMillan.

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Date-stamped : 02 Jul1998 - 06:15