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Hussain’s time for tough act

For a vast country full of empty acres, Australia is a difficult place to hide if you are an England cricketer on the run after another defeat.

For the captain, Nasser Hussain, the urge to draw the curtains of his hotel room and hang out the “Do Not Disturb” sign must be even stronger, though he helped out at the voluntary practice session the day after England’s defeat at the Adelaide Oval.

A little time alone would probably do him good, as several tough decisions need to be taken before the third Test in Perth, though not as has been suggested by the likes of Merv Hughes, on his own future as captain. Hussain is a committed and proud leader, traits confirmed by England’s coach Duncan Fletcher.

“Nasser is still very enthusiastic and is still up for it,” Fletcher said yesterday. “He was picked to do the job here and in the World Cup, and as far as I’m aware he wants to do that job. Quitting beforehand isn’t the Nasser I know.”

While it is right that he should see it through, Hussain must be ruthless in pruning back older wood. Although modern tours, with their lack of non-Test cricket prevent the support players from stating their case, they have to be pitched in when players lose their bearings as much as Andrew Caddick appears to have done. Caddick’s gaucheness makes him an easy target for ridicule, though recently his performances, particularly in the first innings of Tests, have given his critics plenty of ammunition too.

But for a back spasm in the last Test, one that kept Caddick off the field for much of the last two days, it would have been the ninth Test out of 14 that he had conceded over 100 runs in the first innings and the sixth time against Australia — hardly a ringing endorsement for inclusion.

With evidence like that — the only recent Test in which he took important first-innings wickets was against New Zealand in Auckland, a match England lost — it would not be a knee-jerk reaction to drop him for this week’s Test.

On song and with a compliant pitch under foot, Caddick is still potentially England’s best bowler, though he has barely threatened with the new ball here.

In Australia the pitches tend to be truer and the balls more easily softened, exposing bowlers like nowhere else. It is why Matthew Hoggard, a skiddy, predictable bowler, has struggled but not Caddick, who has the twin advantages of height and pace that Glenn McGrath employs, though not the Australian’s grinding accuracy.

Caddick’s problems against Australia are mental and physical. A tall bowler whose natural length is shorter than Hoggard’s, he has been pulled off it by the likes of Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting, both fine exponents of the pull shot.

Unnerved, it has caused Caddick to over-compensate and push the ball fuller rather than bowl it there, which in turn has led to him being driven as well. Unable to set a field, his captain has become frustrated as well.

While he is unable to find the optimum length, Caddick’s already fragile confidence has been drained to the point where his normal behaviour has changed, as shown by his attempts to play buffoon with the crowd getting on his back after a fielding blunder during the last Test. Normally po-faced and vehemently anti-Australian, this about-turn would surely have had Freudians reaching for their notebooks.

England will be tempted to stick by Caddick because he did a good job at the WACA against Western Australia earlier on the tour. He has also successfully worked over Steve Waugh, though the damage has been done on both Tests by the time the captain has entered — a classic case of too little too late.

Caddick, 35 last week, could make it easy for the selectors by remaining unfit. An MRI scan on his back after the spasm suffered on day three of the second Test, has apparently revealed “long-standing wear and tear consistent with a bowler his age”.

According to the England physiotherapist, Kirk Russell, a steroid injection administered in Perth Monday means Caddick will be re-assessed tomorrow. Steroid injections are usually given 48 hours to work. England claim they tried to arrange the jab in Adelaide on Monday afternoon after the scan, but with them having to wait until arriving in Perth, time is running out.

With John Crawley making slower progress then expected with his bruised hip, Paul Collingwood, playing grade cricket in Melbourne, has been called up as cover for the third Test. Gareth Batty, Worcestershire’s off-spinner and a member of the Academy, is on stand-by should an extra spinner be unexpectedly required.

Batty, presumably as a pre-requisite to joining the senior squad, has just had an injured shoulder jabbed and he is waiting to see how it turns out.

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