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Prior notice to Australia

Ted Corbett

LEEDS: Matt Prior, the Sussex wicket-keeper, has been put on notice that he will be the first man to be used in cricket as a football-style substitute. Prior, 23, has been a highly successful hitter in both the 45-over games and in 20/20 matches which is why he has been nominated for the England side against Australia at Headingley on Thursday.

Whether their initial reaction to the new regulations approved by ICC only last week was one of approval or not, it is clear the England management is at least keen to make the experiment. One of the reasons given for the change to this basic Law - like the other major change which means a captain can now switch his time of the over when field restrictions are used — was that spectators found the middle overs of the game boring.

Ashes madness

This same game provides no evidence for such a suggestion. The ground will be full, for the simple reason that the whole nation has gone Ashes mad and that any clash between the two oldest rivals is seen as potentially explosive. We have already had an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Matthew Hayden, the big Australian opening bat and Simon Jones, the husky Welsh fast bowler and a beamer from the Aussie paceman Brett Lee to Marcus Trescothick, England's opener.

Anticipation that these aggressive acts are likely to breed more trouble have filled the ground for this NatWest Challenge game — there are two more at Lord's and the Oval in the next six days, and it may be that the tinkering with the rules takes second place to yet another entrée ahead of the main course consisting of five Ashes Tests from July 21.

None of this will bother Prior who has a highest score of 201 not out in first class cricket — with nine other hundreds, who scored 35 in his only one-day international and an average of 33 in the 20/20 circus.

He began life in South Africa but there is no doubt his cricket education has been in England where he has now established himself as the No.1 Sussex keeper even though at times he has had to share the duties with Tim Ambrose. He has also toured India with England A and is one of the candidates, along with Chris Read of Nottinghamshire, for the England keeper's job should the selectors think again about their first choice Geraint Jones.

Cautious welcome

No doubt both management teams have had discussions about the best way to deal with the new rules and the England coach Duncan Fletcher has already given them a cautious welcome. "It will make the captains think in those middle overs where before they could switch off," is his comment. But the rest of the world will want to see what the effect of such basic changes will be. Sometimes even in international sport, it is necessary to sit on one's hands and that may be the most difficult action for any captain.

Would Michael Vaughan, the England captain, have made a change when Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones were stuck on two runs an over during the final of the NatWest Series last weekend? As it turned out the sixth wicket pair set up victory and what seemed likely to be a heavy defeat for England was turned into a thrilling tie.

My initial reaction for these rules was that, as the substitute concept flew in the face of the Laws that have been in place for more than 100 years, they were not just unnecessary but against everything cricket stood for. But I wait to watch these three matches before passing a final judgement even though I like the comment of a female in the television industry who asked: "Why make a complicated game more difficult?"

The teams:

England: Michael Vaughan (captain), Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles, Darren Gough, Steve Harmison, Geraint Jones, Simon Jones, Jon Lewis, Kevin Pietersen, Matthew Prior, Vikram Solanki, Andrew Strauss, Chris Tremlett, Marcus Trescothick.

Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie, Brad Haddin, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hogg, Michael Hussey, Michael Kasprowicz, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson.

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