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Tuesday, July 03, 2001

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Ramprakash, Giles join injured list

By Ted Corbett

BIRMINGHAM, JULY 2. England's selection problems mounted on the first day of practice at Edgbaston today when Mark Ramprakash dropped out of the squad for Thursday's Test against Australia and Ashley Giles failed to turn up because he has tonsillitis. Michael Vaughan and Craig White are also doubtful because of injuries.

Add that to the loss of form which brought an unexpected defeat in the second Test against Pakistan and in six successive one-day Internationals, and the injuries that kept Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain and White out of the one-day games. It is obvious why the selection panel refused to be rushed into announcing changes even though only 72 hours remain before the start of the Ashes series.

Ramprakash went into Surrey's last game against Lancashire with a hamstring twinge, confident it would not be damaged but soon after his unexpected return to the England party was announced on Saturday he aggravated the injury. Giles, who has been suffering from knee and back trouble ever since he returned from Sri Lanka, was taken ill at the weekend.

The problems have been made worse by the fact that Ramprakash was already a stand-by for Graham Thorpe, who selection was made more in hope than the expectation that he might be able to play. He has not had a game for a month and cannot have been too happy about the prospect of facing Glenn McGrath and Co. after such a long spell inactive but it was a sign of the desperation now in the England camp that forced the selectors to gamble on his fitness. They knew that even if he was declared fit there was the danger of another strain on his calf causing him to miss more than half the five-Test series. Hussain has also had only three innings in a month.

Ramprakash's replacement will come from a small group. Owais Shah, a young Karachi-born Middlesex batsman, and Ramprakash's replacement at Lord's after his defection to Surrey, had a promising time in the one-day games and showed a lot of heart but the selectors did not want him to play until England was in a stronger position.

There is a surprise suggestion that Mark Butcher may be recalled to bat at No. 3 and provide the solid experience that is needed in England's injury crisis. Young men like Shah, Usman Afzaal of Nottinghamshire and Paul Collingwood of Durham are too vulnerable but Butcher, 28, with 27 Tests behind him including a full tour of West Indies and Australia, is the sort of gritty defender who might answer the call. He is not even a certainty for the Surrey side of superstars when everyone is fit.

As for Giles' replacement, if that is necessary, the most optimistic mind falters. Robert Croft bowled fairly well in one one-day international and is placed on stand-by. Apart from the 37-year-old Peter Such, a moderate batsman and fielder, and Shaun Udal of Hampshire, who at 32 has not yet played Test cricket, there is no other off-spinner. The two discarded leg- spinners, Ian Salisbury and Chris Schofield, have not taken enough wickets this season to be considered.

Nasser Hussain, the captain, issued a rallying call today, urging his men to ``stay in games longer. We cannot afford to go for 500 in the first innings at Edgbaston or be bowled out for 150.'' He said: ``This is the best Australian side I have played against but we have a great chance of winning back the Ashes.'' Former England legend Graham Gooch insisted that ``if we rattle the Australians we may cause a shock'' and added ``we must be aggressive towards them.''

Unhappily for both these well-intentioned statements the tide seems to be running hard against England at the moment. The Australians, with a typical gesture of one-upmanship, have announced their team already. Justin Langer is replaced by Damien Martyn, with Ricky Ponting at No. 3.

The team: Steve Waugh, captain, Matthew Hayden, Michael Slater, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath.

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