February 15, 2001

England A face tough test against the Leewards

England A face their toughest test of the Busta Cup campaign tomorrow when they face a `fizzing' full strength Leeward Islands side on the hunt for maximum points to win the Caribbean title.

The tourists are not eligible to win the domestic championship but having already secured their slot in the semi-finals of the Busta International Shield, featuring the four top sides of the tournament, the challenge is now on to finish with more points than the regional Cup winners.

But on a fast pitch at the Ronald Webster Park in Anguilla and against a squad boosted by the return of international players Ridley Jacobs and Sylvester Joseph, who returned home from Australia on Tuesday, England A are set to encounter different conditions to any previous game and a much stronger opposition.

"They will be at full strength with two or three players coming back into their team so their players will gain confidence from the return of their Test stars and they will be fizzing a bit," said skipper Mark Alleyne.

"They also need to get full points to win the Busta Cup so they will be fired up.

"We need to maintain our momentum. We don't want to play any soft cricket and it is a good opportunity for us to up our own game. We had our sights initially set on finishing in the top four. We have achieved that but there is nothing like finishing at the top of the group and in an ideal world I would like to gain maximum points from this game and finish top of the tree.

"The bounce will be a lot more than any of the previous pitches we played and the Leeward Island bowlers a little bit quicker so it is a different challenge for us, and the guys have been waiting for this moment for a while. I'm looking forward to seeing how we handle it."

But doubts over the fitness and form of fast bowler Alex Tudor, who has missed three weeks of cricket with a sore side, remain the key discussion point for selectors ahead of their meeting tonight.

"I am personally quite worried about it," said Alleyne.

"We wanted to win matches and the competition but we also were looking at the development of guys and from an international point of view, someone like Alex needs to string a whole series together - four of five games in a row, competing really hard and we have not got that on this trip so I am disappointed.

"He has a niggly side injury that has prevented him from bowling flat out. He managed to get a good half an hour bowl yesterday and looked pretty good but the key is how he is today. If he is a bit sore we are not going to risk it because there is plenty of competition for that place."

While there is uncertainty over Tudor, there is none over the inclusion of young Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell who joined the squad in Anguilla yesterday. With the injury to Vikram Solanki's finger in the match against Windward Islands last week, selectors see this as an ideal chance to play him, ahead of the semi-finals.

"Having already qualified for the semi-final, we want to have a look at Ian before that match. Vikram's finger is not quite ready yet so I would think that Bell is a certainty to play against Leewards."

England A have had a four day break after their win in St Lucia on Sunday and despite the distractions of the sun and beach in Anguilla, they remained focussed and determined, Alleyne added.

"There shouldn't be a problem getting them fired up again. If we do our jobs properly, there should be no complacency at all. We had a chat about it yesterday but judging their approach to practice, there is no feeling that they are letting up. The guys want to impress and play in the semi-final because this is good for their careers.

"This is our most challenging match so far because of the circumstances, coupled with the fact that we have already qualified so we have to maintain the hard streak that we need."