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Cricket: Fatigue fear over England schedule; Top players may miss out on vital rest time.

Byline: RICHARD GIBSON

PLAYER fatigue is likely to come under even greater scrutiny in the coming months after yesterday's announcement of England's 2004 schedule.

Next year's international summer, which begins only two weeks after the winter commitments end, is a gruelling affair,including three sets of back- to back Tests.

That kind of planning is sure to irk leading players like captain Michael Vaughan, who voiced his displeasure at such a workload this season when two lots of back-to-backs were wedged into the South Africans' tour.

Vaughan's team begin next season with a three-match npower Test series against New Zealand,including just two days recuperation between the second encounter at Headingley and the third at Trent Bridge.

Then,for the West Indies' visit later in the summer, they will engage in two pairs of back-to-backs -Lord's followed by Edgbaston and Old Trafford followed by the AMP Oval.

Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, now an International Cricket Council match referee, believes the cramming, which could see England involved on the field for 45 days out of 106, should they reach the final of the triangular NatWest Series next summer, has reached its limit.

He pointed to the case of Steve Harmison, who left the scene of England's third Test win with a calf problem less than 72 hours before the start of the following Headingley match --although the Durham pace bowler was declared fit,he was not selected.

``There could be a happy medium made with sponsors and television to allow everything to fit in,''Lloyd said.

``Players need rest and in most cases now they are not getting it.

``Recently when England went straight to Leeds from Trent Bridge, Harmison might have been able to play with more rest and made a difference.

``At the moment, you might lose vital players because a niggling injury needs five days' recovery time instead of three and teams can't risk an individual because the opposition can refuse a substitute in such circumstances.''

Nevertheless, with the ICC Champions Trophy contested here for the first time next September -squeezing the international season further -the increased presence of back-to-back Tests has become almost inevitable.

England will prepare for that limited overs tournament with the three-match NatWest Challenge, against as yet unconfirmed opposition -possibly Australia -in the week usually reserved for the Oval Test.

They resume their seemingly relentless itinerary in 2004 with the opening Test against New Zealand, which gets under way exactly a fortnight after the players are due to board a flight back from their winter exploits in the Caribbean.

``You need enough space in between to cope with injuries, it should not be as cluttered a schedule as they have had in the last few years,'' insisted Lloyd.

Heavy scheduling, retirements and injuries, combined to loss of form,has led England to field an incredible 22 different players in the eight Test matches they have played in 2003, while a further 10 have been employed in one-day internationals.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 12, 2003
Words:496
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