A lot of good judges were in favour of Stewart keeping wicket - but then a lot of good judges wanted Major as Prime Minister

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The Independent Online
England's performance at Headingley was like a bad film and, like a bad director, Ray Illingworth now has a problem with continuity. He declares himself in favour of it, and it's true that generations of England selectors have rung too many changes. But if you haven't got the selection right in the first place, continuity becomes a menace.

For Headingley the selectors made three crucial errors. I say this, of course, with hindsight - but two out of three were plain to see before a ball had been bowled.

The first stood out as soon as the squad appeared. The squad contained six tail-enders. Two of these, Darren Gough and Phillip DeFreitas, can swing the bat as well as the ball. They make a good pair at No 8 and No 9, as they showed with that partnership of 70 which lit up The Oval, depressed the South Africans and set the tone for Devon Malcolm's finest hour.

But neither man is an international No 7. DeFreitas, for all the elegance of his cover drive, has a Test average of 14. In the past year it has been 21, with three fifties, thanks to Mike Atherton, who insists that bowlers bat in the nets, and to Illingworth himself, who gave DeFreitas what is technically known as a good talking-to. But this has only turned him into a No 8.

Gough's average is higher - a fraction over 30 - but nine completed innings are not enough to judge anyone, however refreshing his style. A No 7 must be capable of making a hundred (Gough's best in all cricket is 72), and of switching between attack and defence. As he showed by trying to hit his first ball of the series for six, Gough's idea of defence is similar to Saddam Hussein's.

The selectors' first blunder led straight to the second. Illy let it be known in advance that the 12th man would be either Malcolm or Angus Fraser. Was this because they were the two worst bowlers? No. It was because they were the two worst batsmen.

So England fielded two bowlers of the same type (DeFreitas and Peter Martin, both outswingers) and repeated the most glaring error of Illy's reign: leaving out Fraser. Only this time it was worse. Low-scoring game, high but uneven bounce, batsmen itching to attack: this was the scenario of Fraser's dreams.

When the West Indies began each innings as if they were facing Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk's XI, Atherton must have known he had the wrong cards in his hand. DeFreitas and Martin were reasonably Fraser-like on Saturday morning, but neither could staunch the runs on Sunday afternoon. Afterwards, in the rush to condemn the batsmen, it went unnoticed that no England bowler had captured more than two wickets.

With the old metronome operating at one end, Atherton would surely have had the confidence to persist with Malcolm at the other. As it was, he gave him eight overs in the first innings and relegated him to second change in the second - when he was the only bowler treated with respect.

Both error A and error B arose out of Illingworth's desire to field five proper bowlers. A hitherto unappreciated advantage of having only four is that you are forced to employ them all.

And so, inevitably, to error C: making Alec Stewart keep wicket. A lot of good judges were in favour of this - Bob Simpson, Mike Gatting, Dermot Reeve, Mark Nicholas. But then a lot of good judges were in favour of John Major becoming Prime Minister.

Illingworth insists that Stewart is a Test all-rounder. He argues, convincingly, that his wicketkeeping is up to it, and fails to spot that his batting, by a neat paradox, is not. Statistics can be used to prove most things, but I defy anyone to show that Stewart is still a front-line batsman when he keeps wicket. Average as a specialist bat: 47, with seven hundreds. Average as a keeper: 24, with no hundreds. That's the same as Steve Rhodes, slightly worse than Jack Russell or Ian Healy. Stewart the keeper is not worth a place in the top six.

You could see this at Headingley, not so much in his two failures, which could have happened to anyone, as in his first-innings predicament. Coming in to join Atherton, his trusty ex-partner, he saw two quick wickets fall, and found himself left with DeFreitas. No wonder he looked disorientated.

Giving Stewart the gauntlets is a double crime. It's a blow to the team, which is deprived not just of a solid opening pair, but also, in effect, of one of the three batsmen who have taken a hundred off the West Indies. And it's a cruel blow to Stewart, who is shackled, emasculated, reduced from potential match-winner to odd-job man.

"You cannot pursue the idea of a balanced side if you haven't got the resources." So says Atherton in his new book A Test of Cricket (Hodder, pounds 16.99). The captain is right, the chairman is wrong. The most memorable thing Illy did at Headingley was to wear that sheepskin coat. On Sunday we shall see if his wardrobe runs to a thinking cap.