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September 13, 2006 3:00 am
When England returned from Australia after a 4-1 thumping four years ago, it was said that an Ashes squad would never again depart with players who were not fully fit, writes Jonathan Wilson.
Well, they will, and they will do so this November. Extraordinary circumstances probably made it unavoidable but there must nonetheless be an undercurrent of concern that five of the 16-man squad announced on Tuesday are far from fully fit.
Andrew Flintoff, as expected named captain ahead of Andrew Strauss, insisted his ankle was on the mend, although it remains probable that he will play in next month's Champions Trophy in India solely as a batsman, and Marcus Trescothick was equally sure to travel despite his stress-related illness and his withdrawal from the Champions Trophy squad.
Ashley Giles has not bowled all summer but his hip problem is progressing sufficiently well that he will travel to India to practise alongside the main squad; he was, in any case, always likely to be named as the other spinner alongside Monty Panesar.
That will disappoint those who dislike the thought of fielding two left-armers - if England choose to use both in Sydney, where the pitch is traditionally conducive to spin - but they are different enough in style and trajec- tory that being too similar should not be a concern.
What is more surprising is that the selectors have opted for both James Anderson and Liam Plunkett, who have had back and side injuries respectively. That leaves England a batsman short of what might have been expected, which indicates that the plan is to operate, as they did in winning the Ashes last summer, with a five-man bowling attack, rather than with the four deployed in Flintoff's absence during this summer.
As David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, was keen to emphasise, the make-up of the 16 is rather less important on this tour than in any previous one because the Academy squad will be based in Perth during the winter. That means that, in the event of injuries - or, Graveney refused to rule out, loss of form - players can be drafted in without problems of acclimatisation and jet-lag. Ashes squad: Andrew Flintoff (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook, Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Geraint Jones, Sajid Mahmood, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Liam Plunkett, Chris Read, Andrew Strauss, Marcus Trescothick.Champions Trophy squad: Andrew Flintoff (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Rikki Clarke, Paul Collingwood, James Dalrymple, Steve Harmison, Ed Joyce, Sajid Mahmood, Jon Lewis, Kevin Pietersen, Chris Read, Andrew Strauss, Michael Yardy.Academy squad: Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Rikki Clarke, James Dalrymple, Steven Davies, Ed Joyce, Robert Key, Jon Lewis, Graham Onions, Matt Prior, Owais Shah, Tom Smith, Chris Tremlett, Michael Yardy.
The BBC will televise England cricket matches for the first time in seven years after winning the rights to broadcast Ashes highlights. The network last televised Test cricket in 1999 but will now become the only terrestrial broadcaster to show England's Test and one-day matches in a six- month deal that expires at the end of April 2007.
The BBC will show highlights of all five Ashes Tests and the triangular one-day series, which also features New Zealand. It also has the rights to highlights of next year's World Cup in the West Indies.
*FOOTBALL Fifa vice-president Jack Warner faces a fight to avoid expulsion from the organisation after being engulfed by a World Cup ticket scandal. Warner, from Trinidad and Tobago, has been identified in a report by auditors Ernst & Young as having sold World Cup tickets at up to three times their face value.
In their confidential report to Fifa, the accountants say: ''We can confirm that tickets included in orders under customer reference 201498572 (Mr Jack Warner) were transferred or resold into the secondary market in breach of the 2006 Fifa World Cup Germany ticketing general terms and conditions.'' The issue will now be dealt with at Fifa's executive committee meeting in Zurich on Friday. Fifa took tough action against another senior executive, Ismail Bhamjee, during the World Cup when he was discovered to have sold tickets to fans for profit and was sent home to Botswana in disgrace.
Thierry Henry will miss Arsenal's Champions league game at Hamburg on Wednesday night after he suffered a reaction to a recent foot injury.
The Arsenal captain picked up the problem while on international duty with France in the Euro 2008 qualifier against Italy last week, but played through the pain barrier to face Middlesbrough on Saturday.
However, Henry expressed concern following training at London Colney yesterday and it was decided the striker should not be involved in Hamburg.
* MORE FOOTBALL Most observers probably saw Chelsea’s 2-0 victory against Werder Bremen as a routine win over awkward opponents, but not José Mourinho, writes Jonathan Wilson at Stamford Bridge. Even by the extraordinary standards he has set, the Chelsea manager’s behaviour after Tuesday night’s Champions League Group A opener was bizarre.
He flounced out after attacking the media for recent criticism of Frank Lampard, but not before implying there was something sinister to the four bookings Chelsea picked up. He listed a series of major teams who collected fewer yellow cards on the night, then asked, with characteristic sarcasm, why. “Do you think violence?”
John Terry’s booking for a check on Ivan Klasnic seemed clear-cut enough, and the England captain - as Mourinho indirectly acknowledged - was a touch fortunate not to gather a second yellow for a foul on the same player seven minutes later.
Joe Cole and Frank Lampard were perhaps unlucky to be pulled up for technical offences and Didier Drogba, booked for kicking the ball away after being judged offside, could claim he was unable to stop his shot, but it would take a mind determined to find fault to see controversy in such a game.
Michael Ballack converted a second-half penalty to double a lead that Michael Essien had given Chelsea in the first half and stifle a threatened fightback.
*MOTOR RACING Fernando Alonso cranked up his end-of-season battle with Michael Schumacher by criticising the seven-times champion as ''the most unsporting driver in the history of Formula One''.
The Renault driver's warring words are certain to serve as a spur for the 37-year-old German as he bids to end his career with an eighth world crown.
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