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England looking to continue good run

By Ted Corbett

CAPE TOWN, JAN. 1. While South Africa plan more changes — and its captain Graeme Smith cries out for stability — England starts 2005 where it ended 2004; with the same line-up that has served as its basis for the last 18 Tests.

It has had only one defeat since it beat South Africa at the Oval in September 2003 — to Sri Lanka in Colombo four months later — and although it has have used 22 players its structure has been uniform.

Marcus Trescothick has taken the first ball of every England innings and three others have missed only one Test — Ashley Giles, Graham Thorpe and Michael Vaughan, the captain.

There was a time when Giles's head was demanded — "what is the point of Ashley Giles?" wrote one peevish viewer — by every critic with his own lap top but he has ironed out a fault in his action and now controls the run rate as well as any spinner in the world. Thorpe has scored three centuries in the last year and Vaughan is one of the finest captains England has ever had. "Not as good tactically as Nasser Hussain but much the better man manager," said an old selector after the draw in Durban. And just as emotionally involved. He and Duncan Fletcher, the coach, are the only selectors on tour and their watchword is consistency.

Smith would love to have the same ideal but the needs of the era mean that the ways of sporting greatness have to stand aside for political expediency. "You can talk about picking a team around a central core," the former England pace bowler John Lever said to me recently, "but you should see the effect of the selection of Thami Tsolekile on the townships. They want a sporting hero and this policy has given them one." The hope is that choosing him — and other black sportsmen — will heal the rifts in this nation.

There are other arguments against the South African selectors. They put Martin van Jaarsveld in for Boeta Dippenaar, saw him make a robust 49 and then not only told him that he was out of the Test team but sent him home; a strange way to reward someone for maximum effort.

Steyn may be left out

There is also a suggestion that Charl Langeveldt, the swing bowler, may come in for young Dale Steyn. Langeveldt was the unanimous choice of the selectors for the second Test and it needed a strongly worded phone call from Smith to keep Steyn in the team. He may not be so fortunate a second time.

The people of the Cape regard themselves as rather superior to the rest of South Africa and their influence will be felt throughout this match. Smith, Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs, three of the important men in this reshuffled side, all play for Western Province and may be expected to perform well in front of their own folk.

But that does not leave England in the shade. Fletcher made his reputation as a coach in Cape Town and as my former selector friend added to his appraisal of the Durban Test: "He is not everyone's cup of tea but he must have played a major part in the building of this England side. You can see his stamp on everything that happens."

Kallis attributes his success — 6,400 Test runs, 18 centuries and an average of 54.56 — to Fletcher's teaching. That compliment can turn into a two-edged sword. What Fletcher has taught he can also find ways round so England may have the upper hand again in this Test.

The teams:

South Africa (from): Graeme Smith (captain), Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Rudolph, Jacques Kallis, Boeta Dippenaar, A.B. de Villiers, Thami Tsolekile, Nicky Boje, Shaun Pollock, Charl Langeveldt, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Andrew Hall.

England: Michael Vaughan (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Mark Butcher, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Steve Harmison. Umpires: Steve Bucknor (West Indies) and Daryl Harper (Australia). Third umpire: Brian Jerling. Match referee: Clive Lloyd.

PTI reports from Durban: As help pours in from all over the world for tsunami victims, the South African Cricket Board has pledged to play its own part by donating all proceeds from the third Test to survivors of the calamity.

Signed shirts from both South African and English teams would be raffled over the five days of the third Test match, Gerald Majola, Chief Executive Officer of the United Cricket Board of South Africa said in a statement on Saturday.

All proceeds from the ticket sales would also go for the same cause, he said.

The English team has already contributed 15,000 for disaster relief.

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