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Elliott takes promotion in his stride

Peter Deeley on the Australian newcomer expected to test the patience of England bowlers

Friday 18 April 1997


ASK any Australian selector who he expects to play a pivotal role in this summer's Ashes series and he will unhesitatingly refer you to a tall, raw-boned Victorian whose name is scarcely dry on the Test teamsheet.

Matthew Elliott bears an uncanny resemblance to another famous Melburnian, Bill Lawry, even down to the long, raking nose. His countrymen are confident that in a short time he will be making the same mountainous contribution to Australian batting totals as the former Test captain.

For a 25-year-old who has played only five Tests - top score 85 - and made his debut against the West Indies a mere six months ago, there is a dauntingly high degree of Australian expectation riding on his shoulders.

Consider, for instance, the fact that the team under Mark Taylor have been partly restructured to accommodate this 6ft 3in left-hander, with Michael Bevan moving down the order.

Remember, too, that after two Tests against the West Indies opening the innings with Taylor, Elliott was given the huge responsibility of the No 3 position in South Africa, stepping into the place vacated by David Boon.

He may revert to opening in England, but if asked to remain first wicket down there will be no complaints from Elliott. ``I'll go in anywhere, even carry the drinks if they ask me,'' he says in a slow drawl.

Almost as soon as he had won Test recognition, Elliott was out again because of a mid-pitch collision with Mark Waugh in the second Test against the West Indies in Sydney in December.

``It was a combination of things,'' he recalls. ``Mark was watching the ball and so was I and we both for some reason switched sides in running so that we ended up on the same patch.''

Elliott came off second best and was out for eight weeks after badly damaging his right knee. Yet he was snapped up for the recent tour of South Africa as soon as he was fit again.

Taylor's view is that Elliott has the technique to become a great batsman. In his early days Elliott played grade cricket for Collingwood, the Melbourne club who have produced many Australian Test personnel.

One, Keith Stackpole, says of Elliott: ``He has terrific potential and is probably the best batsman in Australia today. If he has a problem it is that he must slightly expand his range of shots. The best No 3s have always been very flexible in their repertoire.''

Elliott should not be too perplexed by English conditions. He came with the Young Australian side two years ago and was also here on a cricketing scholarship, playing club cricket with Middlesex side Eastcote and then Leighton Buzzard.

``It's always a question of adapting,'' he says. ``I know people in Australia say there's a lot riding on how I perform. I take it as a big compliment but I won't let the talk overawe me.''


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