Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mark Gains Key Advantage; Butcher's Central Deal Could Seal Spot at No3

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mark Gains Key Advantage; Butcher's Central Deal Could Seal Spot at No3

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID LLOYD

MARK BUTCHER must have spent all week wondering if he would be the odd man out, but he is not only back in England's Test squad for the winter but also restored as firm favourite for the No3 slot against South Africa.

Despite his good track record, Butcher was left wondering whether a combination of injury, accident and other people's impressive form might just keep him in England.

The good news, though, came with his inclusion in England's squad of 16 for the Test tour - and the even better tidings were delivered with the award of a 12-month central contract.

In theory, Butcher and Robert Key start level in the race for a place in the batting line-up in Port Elizabeth against South Africa on 17 December.

In reality, England clearly regard Butcher as the main man ahead of a Test that could see them achieve a record eighth consecutive victory.

Otherwise, like Key, the Surrey man would have been left off the list of players offered a yearlong deal.

"I'm not going to pre-empt a decision," said chairman of selectors David Graveney when asked about the likely pecking order for a vital position in South Africa.

"It firmly rests in the hands of coach Duncan Fletcher and captain Michael Vaughan. We'll speak on the telephone, but they are the guys who make the decisions."

Graveney added: "It's clear who has central contracts and who hasn't, but form obviously will be relevant."

What form? That might be the question come December.

As is the trend with modern tours, England are scheduled to play only two games - a one-day match and a three-dayer - before playing three consecutive Tests in as many weeks.

Several members of Vaughan's squad are likely to have played up to five limited-overs internationals in Zimbabwe just before the South Africa campaign begins.

But Test specialists Butcher and Key will not be among them.

No, whoever plays in the three-day game before the First Test in Port Elizabeth can expect to win another cap - and the signs are that it will be Butcher.

The 32-year-old veteran of 69 Tests had a modest series against New Zealand this season, failing three times in six innings and scoring just one fifty. …

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