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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 16:41 GMT
England player profiles
According to Wisden, England are now the worst Test team in the world.
It is a statistic that the selectors are desperate to alter - and they have chosen a 17-man squad which they believe can put things right in South Africa.
Nasser Hussain - captain
Right hand bat
Appointed as skipper following the hosts' disastrous World Cup campaign, it looked like English cricket could fall no further.
Sadly for Hussain it could and, after proclaiming a "brave new world" for the Test side, he watched them plumb new depths.
While he can hardly be blamed for the paucity of talent available to England, much is expected of his man-management skills and he faces a tough task to restore the morale to the touring party.
Much work behind the scenes is needed to irradicate the "traumatising" atmosphere in the dressing room that new caps experienced last summer.
At least Hussain's place in the team is secure. Possessing one of the soundest techniques in the line-up, the Madras-born batsman is a reliable accumulator of runs and will be expected to lead by example.
The finest fielder in the side, his athleticism can prove inspirational to his colleagues.
Teams: Australian Capital Territory, Derbyshire, Sussex, Auckland
Right hand bat; right arm off-break
A reliable performer on the county scene, he moved into the best paid echelon in the domestic game when he joined Sussex as captain two years ago.
Adams spent 10 years with Derbyshire, making a name for himself with his attacking middle-order batting and useful occasional bowling.
South Africa were the opponents when he received his only previous taste of international cricket, with two relatively anonymous displays in the one-day series in 1998.
Indeed, it is in the limited overs discipline that he excelled last season, a National League average of 80 eclipsing his County Championship mark of 33.
Teams: Lancashire, Cambridge University
Right hand bat
Still only 31, he seems to have been opening the innings for the national side for ever.
No one in modern Test cricket possesses his determination and concentration at the top of the order - never better emphasised than on the last tour of South Africa when his remarkable 185 not out earned England an unlikely draw in the second Test.
Atherton will be hoping to rediscover the form that brought that innings - which rates as one of England's finest ever rearguard actions - while the South African attack will again regard his wicket as the prize scalp in the team.
If his dodgy back can hold up he should again be a prime source of runs - as well as providing his good friend Hussain with able tactical support as senior tour member.
Left hand bat, right arm medium
Since making his debut in the 1997 Ashes series, he has failed to fulfill his promise by nailing down a regular place as opener.
And poor shot selection ensured he had a scrappy series with the bat against New Zealand.
Yet despite his failings - and to the astonishment of those who accuse the selectors of southern bias - the Surrey man was still called upon to step in as captain when Hussain broke a finger.
He will need to prove himself this time around, though, or the writing could be on the wall.
An attacking opener who is also a useful partnership-breaking bowler, he has the ability and the upbeat approach to at last seal his position in the team.
Right hand bat, right arm fast
He made his debut back in 1993, but like so many fast bowlers who have impressed on the county scene in recent years, he seemed unable to translate his promise into international class.
The result was an on-off England career, which saw him continually dropped - amid accusations of an introverted approach - before being recalled when the alternatives failed to come up with the goods.
But with the advent of the Hussain regime and the development a fuller length delivery, the 6ft 6ins paceman finally established himself as first choice - and he was immediately rewarded with the man of the series award against the Kiwis.
The only shame for the selectors is that it has taken the 30-year-old so long to silence his critics.
Right hand bat, right arm medium
After a successful time with the A team, Flintoff made his Test breakthrough in the last two matches against South Africa in 1998.
But while the rest of the team celebrated a timely series success at The Oval, he was a more forlorn, detached figure, having scored a "pair" in the decider.
As a result he was overlooked for the series against Australia and New Zealand and his supporters feared he would be consigned to a future as a one-day specialist.
But with none of his rivals able to secure the all-rounder's berth, the Preston-born star got the selectors' call.
Right hand bat, right arm fast
But unfortunately for selectors and supporters alike, a string of injuries have so often seen the team forced to take the field without him.
When the fiery Yorkshire paceman is there, England have an extra dimension to their cricket.
A whole-hearted competitor, with the ability to move the ball in the air at speed, his in-swinging yorker is a potent weapon.
At one stage he looked like becoming a genuine all-rounder, but his batting has slumped alarmingly and he is now a true tail-ender.
A bubbly character who acts as the squad's unofficial cheer-leader, he is the perfect tourist and, now a seasoned campaigner, he will be expected to help in the development of his heir-apparent, Alex Tudor.
Teams: Yorkshire, Scotland
Left hand bat, right arm fast medium
The star of the Scots' colourful World Cup debut, his average of 54 in one-day internationals earned him a call from England - and he says he is delighted to have made the switch.
The World Cup success proved just the impetus he needed, as 1999 was an excellent season on the county circuit.
He averaged over 50 with the bat and under 20 with the ball in first-class cricket for Yorkshire - proving he is more than just a limited-overs performer.
Right hand bat, Right arm medium
A stylish opener, he made his name with a series of dominant displays in Leicestershire's Championship-winning side and as a tourist with the A team.
He can also provide some useful medium pace support for the strike attack.
One of the hardest working players on the County scene, Maddy will at least provide the squad with some added determination.
Teams: Leicestershire, Western Australia, Hampshire
Right hand bat, Left arm fast medium
When Hussain announced that a new broom would be sweeping through the Test set-up, his place looked to be one of the most vulnerable after a below-par summer.
But he probably owes his retention - ahead of the luckless Ed Giddins - to the fact that he is a left arm bowler, offering his skipper more variety and the chance of roughing up the surface for the spinners.
Born in Southend, but educated in Australia, he looked to have discovered some world-class penetration on last year's Ashes tour.
The selectors will be hoping his recent move to Hampshire has inspired him to reproduce his best form.
Teams: Nottinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Devon
Right hand bat, Wicketkeeper
Selected at the start of the summer, with the hope that he could be nursed into the wicketkeeping role against New Zealand, one of the weaker Test nations, he was - according to former coach David Lloyd - "traumatised" by the atmosphere in the dressing room.
Edgy performances with the bat and behind the stumps followed.
Then, as the team floundered, he was discarded to allow the selectors to opt for their traditional desperate measure of handing the gloves to Alec Stewart.
But a doughty 37 did give signs of potential with the bat - and he was allegedly told long ago that his place for South Africa was secure.
With the age-old all-rounder problem still unresolved, Stewart is likely to keep Read out of the Test team - but the Devonian youngster is in pole position to replace him.
Right hand bat, Right arm fast medium
When Dean Headley was laid low in South Africa with injury before the Test series had even begun, Silverwood was given an SOS call from the management.
The Yorkshire seamer had been on tour with the A team in Bangladesh - but he was called up to the senior squad as cover, as Headley was forced home with a stress fracture of the back.
An encouraging Test debut against Zimbabwe in 1996 when he took 4-71 looked like heralding a long international career.
But the 24-year-old has instead been England's nearly man in recent years. While more established bowlers have struggled in the Test arena, he has frequently been 12th man or placed on stand-by for the full squad.
This time he will be hoping to earn a surprise call-up to the Test team, despite the fact that a number of bowlers are ahead of him in the pecking order.
Right hand bat, Wicketkeeper
Twelve months ago he was basking in the glory of leding England to their first major series victory for a decade.
But after an Ashes defeat and the World Cup debacle, he lost the captaincy and then became one of the major scapegoats for both press and public alike following the summer slump.
With most experts predicting that his distinguished Test career had come to an end, the selectors offered him another chance and - along with Atherton - has has been handed a senior advisory role.
His favoured position is as at the top of the order - and he has been one of the world's most attacking openers of the past decade - but he now seems destined for a middle-order berth.
Right hand bat, Right arm off-break
But, more often than not, when the tourists start to falter, the Test call comes.
So for Alex Tudor last winter, read Swann this time around.
He made his name as a member of England's World Cup winning Under-19 side and subsequently earned an A team place.
The 20-year-old Northants spinner offers the squad another useful source of lower-order runs, which - following the tail-end failures of recent years - could even earn him a place ahead of Phil Tufnell.
Right hand bat, Right arm fast
But the selectors will have their fingers crossed that this time the hype does not have a detrimental effect on the development of a promising cricketer.
He does though provide the team with the kind of full-on pace that they have lacked throughout the 1990s - as he showed last winter Down Under.
And his match-winning 99 not out against New Zealand at Edgbaston - the one highlight of a dismal England summer - showed he has the potential to become a genuine all-rounder.
But there needs to be caution. A knee injury kept him out of the rest of the series and there are question-marks over his long-term fitness.
Right hand bat, Slow left arm
A promising bowler breaks into the Test side and creates excitement with some eye-catching displays.
But when the match-winning performances dry up, he falls out of favour with the selectors and becomes just another on-off England player.
The lack of a world-class slow bowler has been one of the team's great regrets in recent years and Tufnell, with his flighted left-arm deliveries is the closest thing in the country to a Warne, Saqlain or Kumble.
Despite concerns over the years about his sloppy fielding, his woeful batting and a suspect work ethic, he is still in the squad - largely because there seems so little competition for his place.
But with the home side expected to go for pace-friendly Test tracks, Tufnell may find that opportunities to weave his spell are hard to come by this winter.
Right hand bat, Right arm off-break
But the Lancashire-born Yorkshire batsman has yet to gain full honours and faces stiff competition for an opening spot from the likes of Atherton, Butcher, Maddy and Stewart.
With a sound technique, solid defence and well-honed leadership skills, he has been tipped as a future national skipper.
But a disappointing domestic summer meant that his call-up came as something as a surprise.
Links to other England on Tour stories are at the foot of the page.
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