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September 0, 2002 | 0000 IST

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England Ashes shock as Key replaces Thorpe

England selectors pulled off a surprise by calling up inexerienced batsman Robert Key as Graham Thorpe's replacement for next month's tour of Australia on Saturday.

The Kent opener was named after Thorpe, a middle-order batsman, completed a U-turn and pulled out of the tour due to personal problems.

Key was picked ahead of Mark Ramprakash, long seen as a fine technician but a regular underachiever at international level.

The 33-year-old right-hander, who has played 52 Tests, had been regarded as the likely selection by much of the British media. Despite continuing questions over his temperament, Ramprakash has a good record against Australia, scoring 133 at The Oval in his last appearance against them.

Chairman of selectors David Graveney said: "The selectors considered various options but we wanted to maintain continuity in terms of selection.

"Robert played two Tests this summer, one at Trent Bridge and one at Headingley, which was a difficult wicket, and he showed a lot of promise."

Thorpe, England's leading middle-order batsman, retired from one-day internationals in July and took a break from cricket following the acrimonious break-up of his marriage.

He made himself available for the Ashes at the start of September only to change his mind two weeks later.

Graveney added he was not worried that Key was a specialist opener. "Michael Vaughan began his international career in the middle order and we have no problem with considering Robert for any batting position either," he said.

The 23-year-old Key himself was surprised.

"I am thrilled," he said. "I had planned for a winter off, taking it easy at home and playing some hockey before Christmas and then going to Perth and working on my game in the new year so this has come as a big surprise.

"I have spent quite a lot of time in Australia. It's a great place to play cricket and the wickets are probably the best batting wickets in the world."

Key played three innings in his two Tests against India, with a highest score of 34.

England, who have lost the last seven Ashes series dating back to 1986-7, will play five Tests in Australia. The opening game against the Australian Cricket Board Chairman's XI is in Perth on October 22. The first Test in Brisbane starts on November 7.

England also named seven players who would feature in their one-day squad for a triangular series in Australia in December also involving Sri Lanka.

The seven were Ian Blackwell, Paul Collingwood, Ronnie Irani, Nick Knight, Owais Shah, Jeremy Snape, Craig White.

The rest of the 16-man squad will be made up with those on the Test tour.

England 16-man squad:

Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Robert Key, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain (captain), John Crawley, Alec Stewart, James Foster, Andrew Flintoff, Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Steve Harmison, Ashley Giles, Richard Dawson.

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