Thursday, Dec 18, 2003
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By Ted Corbett
Yet today England thought the unthinkable and, so it says, if it needs an extra bowler for the third and final Test at the Sinhala Cricket Club tomorrow, Hussain could be dropped. As recently as the end of the tour of Bangladesh that would have been the remotest idea in the selectors' minds but for the last two days Michael Vaughan, the England captain, has said it without hesitation.
There is no doubt England will need another bowler to supplement the brave efforts of the foursome who kept going at Kandy. But who? If there are five to be selected, strange as it may seem, it may not be the quartet from Asgiriya plus one. It could be a whole new combination. Ashley Giles, the slow left-arm bowler with 16 wickets so far in the first two drawn Tests, and back to something like the form that brought him 17 wickets in a three-Test series in Pakistan immediately ahead of the last tour of Sri Lanka in 2001, will be the leading bowler. His backing group could come from anyone of the bowlers still in the party. James Kirtley, the quick with the suspect action, is according to the match referee Clive Lloyd not having his flexible arm reviewed; although one has to ask if that is more because such a review would inevitably mean another look at the twisting elbow and wrist of Muttiah Muralitharan. So he could be the second string but, as the off-spinner Gareth Batty did not take a wicket in Kandy until 14 Sri Lankan wickets had fallen, there is a case of turning to Robert Croft.
However Batty is a better batsman and fielder than Croft who is generally rated the best spin bowler in county cricket now that Phil Tufnell has turned to the world of entertainment. Jimmy Anderson, who is "beating himself up because he has been unfit and not out on the field taking wickets" according to assistant coach Mike Watkinson, is also likely to finish the tour watching rather than playing.
The selectors met last night but kept their thought processes under wraps. Sri Lanka will also decide late but their clever choice of Tillekeratne Dilshan for the second Test has been the best off-field move of the series so far. My guess is that they will be unchanged and that England will toy with the idea of putting Rikki Clarke into the side in place of Hussain and then reject it as too revolutionary, too soon. Next summer may be the right time unless Hussain performs particularly brilliantly in the West Indies this spring.
None of this is political, by the way. Vaughan is so solidly entrenched as captain that he has no need to look over his shoulder.
The teams (from):
Sri Lanka: Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Hashan Tillekeratne, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Kumar Dharmasena, Chaminda Vaas, Dinusha Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Upul Chandana, Thilan Samaraweera.
England: Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Rikki Clarke, Chris Read, Robert Croft, Gareth Batty, Ashley Giles, Richard Johnson.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Steve Bucknor (West Indies). TV umpire: Tyron Wijewardene. Match referee: Clive Lloyd (West Indies).
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