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Saturday, June 30, 2001

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Thorpe's fitness rings alarm bells for England

By Ted Corbett

LONDON, JUNE 29. England's selectors, men used to the sort of shock induced by losing 11 one-day internationals in a row, are steeling themselves for another blow this week-end when they will know whether Graham Thorpe, their most reliable run-scorer, will be fit for the first Test at Edgbaston next Friday.

Thorpe has dropped out of the Surrey side which began a first division clash against Lancashire at the Oval - the counties are second and third in the table - and the selectors plan to pick an extra batsman as cover. Earlier this week, Thorpe had acupuncture for his calf injury and announced that the Chinese treatment had been so successful that he had run 20 minutes on the treadmill. However, a reaction has set in and it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will be fit for the Test. He will certainly not be able to fit in a knock of any sort before the side gathers in Birmingham on Monday.

England without Thorpe, as shown in the one-day triangular tournament, is as likely to beat the Australians as it is to win the Olympic sprint relay. His two centuries off Pakistan and Sri Lanka this winter ensured series wins abroad and he has already scored 80 and 138 against Pakistan this summer. His likely replacement is Ian Ward, the left-handed Surrey batsman who looked so much at ease on his Test debut at Old Trafford when he took the spot left vacant by the injury to Nasser Hussain.

Hussain is fit after his broken thumb and plays for Essex this week-end; how much England needs his upbeat attitude, his ability to communicate and his tactical nous at this moment. All those attributes were missing at Old Trafford, when England lost eight wickets after tea to lose when it seemed easier to draw, and throughout the tri-series when it made defeat appear its easy option. Hussain fretted over some of Alec Stewart's decisions and the missed opportunities in the dressing room where, understandably, morale sank to a new low.

The corridors of power have throbbed with activity this week. Last week-end's meeting between Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, his No.2 Brian Bolus, David Graveney, chairman of selectors, Tim Lamb, the Board's chief executive and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is to be followed up by more meetings about contracts for the tour of India and other ways forward.

It was conducted in the spotlight of publicity since ``we must be seen to be doing something'' according to Bolus, but that annoyed Fletcher, who probably saw the gathering on the day of the triangular tournament final for the moonshine it was.

The outcome is that an elite group of 25 or so players will be nominated as the best hopes for the 2003 World Cup; another piece of gobbledegook.

Those of us who saw Surrey overwhelm Nottinghamshire and Gloucestershire destroy Yorkshire in the semifinals of the Benson and Hedges Cup this week were struck by the contrast with the Australian performances in the tri-series. There was none of the intensity, the single- mindedness nor the high level of skill; much less the desire to curb scoring by taking wickets.

Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, set fields with three slips, a gully or two and a short leg. That is a rarity in the conventional English way of conducting one-day games, but from all sides I hear talk about more hostile fields, ``defending by attacking'' is the phrase of the week and ``if a bowler is doing well we must allow him to bowl eight or even all ten overs.''

Like the ``crisis meetings'' of the past week, these statements consist largely of dream material, but it will be interesting to see if the selectors produce anything more adventurous in their Edgbaston squad on Saturday.

lThe likely 12: Nasser Hussain (captain), Michael Atherton, Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Graham Thorpe, Alec Stewart, Ian Ward, Nick Knight, Dominic Cork, Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough and Matthew Hoggard.

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