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Wednesday, August 18, 1999 Published at 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK

Wooden spoon awaits loser

Hussain: Must lift cricketing gloom even if weather stays damp

The skies in London have been almost as gloomy as the mood surrounding English cricket before the fourth Test with New Zealand at the Oval on Thursday.

But without the great British summer weather the chance of an unlikely England series win would have gone.

Manchester's rain saved the hosts from a second successive defeat in the third Test, to keep alive the series at 1-1.

That gave England a realistic chance of avoiding Test cricket's wooden spoon at the end of a depressing summer.

New Zealand occupy the lowest slot in Wisden's unofficial world league table, although a Kiwi win at the Oval would relegate England there - disastrous in a summer when the World Cup was supposed to revitalise the English game.

[ image: New Zealand's Geoff Allott is ruled out with injury]
New Zealand's Geoff Allott is ruled out with injury
The nine days since Manchester have indicated just how quickly things can change.

Previously upbeat New Zealand have lost more players to injury, and a match with Essex by an innings.

England have tried to breathe new life into the team with a decisive change in selection policy - and selectors.

Out went four players, and Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, removed from the selection board after their disastrous recall for veterans.

The final overhaul?

In has come more young blood, as well as the returning captain Nasser Hussain after his broken finger.

[ image: Graeme Swann in the nets on Wednesday, although 20-year-old may not play]
Graeme Swann in the nets on Wednesday, although 20-year-old may not play
Leicestershire opener Darren Maddy, Northamptonshire all-rounder Graeme Swann and Warwickshire bowler Ed Giddins are the uncapped selections.

Essex all-rounder Ronnie Irani returns after a long period, while Alec Stewart gets the keeper's gloves and a place further down the order.

Hussain is determined that this will be the last major overhaul, and assured the newcomers they will not be added to a long list of 17 Englishmen who have played their only Test at the Oval.

"This is a long-term policy," stressed the skipper. "To pick new faces and mingle them with old, responsible players and back them.

There were no jobs for life, he warned, but the incentive of a winter in southern Africa for anyone who does well.

"Ninety percent of the people here have a very good chance of being on tour, if not 100%," he added.

[ image: Hussain: No more chopping and changing]
Hussain: No more chopping and changing
Giddins knows that as he seeks to avoid his usual winter selling Christmas trees, and the seamer once banned for cocaine use does not lack confidence.

"Look at Australia's Glenn McGrath," he said, while discussing his bowling this week.

"I'd like to emulate him, batsman are always wondering where to score the next run from."

The weather could yet restrict his chance to impress, although Giddins is expected to play alongside Maddy, leaving Alan Mullally and 20-year-old Swann to miss out.

The team were forced to switch to the indoor nets at Lord's on Wednesday, although the skies over the capital were brightening by the early evening.

Injured but not jaded

New Zealand will definitely be without bowlers Simon Doull and Geoff Allott, while all-rounder Chris Cairns is rated "50-50" after sustaining a knee injury during the Essex defeat.

Left-armer Shayne O'Connor, with 13 wickets in the last two tour matches, has been drafted in for Allott while Andrew Penn will provide cover for Cairns.

Coach Steve Rixon claims his side were not properly focused at Chelmsford, and has promised that things will change.

"It was a game late in the tour after four months, and I'll forgive on one performance," he said.

"I only hope England think we are jaded. That will suit us very well."

England (probable): Mike Atherton, Darren Maddy, Nasser Hussain (capt), Graham Thorpe, Alec Stewart (wkt), Mark Ramprakash, Ronnie Irani, Andy Caddick, Chris Silverwood, Phil Tufnell, Ed Giddins.

New Zealand (probable): Matthew Horne, Matthew Bell, Stephen Fleming (capt), Nathan Astle, Roger Twose, Craig McMillan, Adam Parore (wkt), Chris Cairns, Daniel Vettori, Dion Nash, Shayne O'Connor.

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