August 7, 2002

Key looks to capitalise on England opening

Two more brand new England caps may well be handed out at the start of the second npower Test against India at Trent Bridge, as the hosts strive to build on their one-nil series lead against India.

After Glamorgan's Simon Jones won his debut at Lord's, the side injury he sustained there has opened the door to Durham's Steve Harmison. Alex Tudor, included in the original squad, was released to rejoin Surrey for their Championship match against Sussex at Hove. And Kent's Robert Key is the immediate beneficiary of Graham Thorpe's decision to take a complete break from cricket, with Marcus Trescothick already sidelined with a thumb injury.

"It's a lucky opportunity for me, really," admitted Key. "Marcus and Graham Thorpe are among the best players around at the moment and for him (Trescothick) not to play because of his injury is unfortunate for him.

Steve Harmison
Photo CricInfo
"I'm under no illusions really - I'm going to be going out there doing my best and trying to keep guys like him and Graham Thorpe out of the side, trying to give the selectors a dilemma when these guys are fit for selection."

Key is grateful to England's most-capped player Alec Stewart for advising him on what was required to reach the top level during a Professional Cricketers' Association dinner two years ago.

"I'd had a bad year and Kent were toying with the idea of sending me to Perth," Key said. "I was pretty much sick of cricket and I wanted a break. I didn't want to do another six months of playing but he pulled me aside and told me to sort myself out.

"He told me to get out to Perth and play on some of the best batting wickets in the world and work hard and if I did that there would be a good chance for me going on and playing for England. I was wasting away as a cricketer and not really doing anything. I wasn't really doing enough to be a professional cricketer even. I wasn't even succeeding as a county player."

Key and Harmison both went back to Australia last winter as members of England's Academy squad under Rod Marsh. Harmison, selected in four England squads two years ago against Zimbabwe and West Indies, is hoping to make his debut at last.

"It feels good to be back, but it will be better if I actually get a game," admitted Harmison. "Conditions in the past meant I didn't get a chance.

"At start of the season I was being bandied about as being the one bowler from the academy that could go on and play Test cricket this summer. But Simon got there first. I spent some time with him in Australia and what he did was a breath of fresh air for English cricket."

The England captain, Nasser Hussain, was still undecided today whether Harmison, Ashley Giles or Dominic Cork would be the unlucky man to miss out.

"It's an unusual Trent Bridge pitch," Hussain said. "It sounds hollow. I would be guessing if I tried to tell you what it will do.

"It will be a very difficult decision. It has swung around in recent years, which brings Cork into the equation. It may get quicker which brings Harmison into the equation. It could spin for Ashley Giles.

"I think everybody wants to see what he's like in the middle but that's not a reason to play Harmison. We are not good enough to pick people for the sake of it."

India's coach, John Wright, has told his batsmen to continue their natural attacking game at Trent Bridge.

"I like to see our players playing their shots, because when we dominate we can take the game away from the opposition," Wright told a news conference today.

"Some of the shots we play are easier to play in the sub-continent. We're trying to build a team who play for each other and fights hard."

The Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, warned that Sachin Tendulkar, who failed to reach 20 in either innings at Lord's, is due for a big knock.

"He is the best player in the world and a match winner," Ganguly said. "He does help us win games but he should be allowed to fail once in a while."

Meanwhile India's dilemma over how to find a place for their off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has been resolved. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble is still suffering from the left calf strain he sustained during the NatWest Series, and makes way for Harbhajan in an otherwise unchanged eleven.