According to George Orwell, the English public school is a totalitarian state, and the same goes for English cricket

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The Independent Online
It was one of the England cricket selectors' worst moments, which is saying something. Thirteen years ago, Bob Willis's squad set off for Australia with three off-spinners (Hemmings, Miller and Marks) and no slow left-armer. The Ashes - Botham's Ashes - were lost. The idea of taking three off-spinners on tour has never resurfaced. This week, however, the selectors have gone one better, and included three off-spinners (Emburey, Watkinson and Hick) in a party of 13. They may even all be in the final XI.

Behind both decisions lies the same rickety reasoning. In 1982, the selectors were bending over backwards to leave out Phil Edmonds, whose record that summer was better than any of the off-spinners'. In 1995, they are bending over backwards to leave out Phil Tufnell, whose record this summer is second only to Emburey's.

Bending over is the appropriate posture here. What is happening is that international sportsmen are being treated like schoolboys.

The most striking thing about Tufnell's continued omission is that it arouses so little comment. If they mention him at all, the cricket correspondents refer to the bad report he got for the tour of Australia. This is said to have made an impression not just on Ray Illingworth, but on his ultimate boss, Dennis Silk, the chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board. And what did Silk do for 23 years before assuming the reins at Lord's? He was headmaster of Radley.

The correspondents haven't actually seen the bad report. According to George Orwell, the English public school is a totalitarian state, and the same goes for English cricket. Glasnost may have stormed the Kremlin, but it hasn't reached Lord's. We know that tour reports carry weight: Illingworth, talking about the call-up of Jason Gallian, didn't say "he got a stack of runs on the A tour", he said "he got a good tour report". But we don't know what is in them, and the chances of Lord's telling us are about the same as Phil Edmonds' chances of becoming chairman of selectors.

Left to guess what Tufnell's report says, we are not, of course, totally stumped. He is an edgy, volatile character. His batting is so bad he pushes Devon Malcolm up to No 10. And it's a long time since he bowled a Test side out. On the other hand, he seldom bowls badly; his fielding has improved so much, he's gone from laughing-stock to classic catch contender; he still puts up with a lot of stick from spectators, especially in Australia; and the task he was allotted in the Tests out there - bowling over the wicket, into the rough, trying to bore out the strokemakers - was a thankless one. Verdict: could do worse.

Illingworth seemed to acknowledge this by saying on Sunday that the selectors had given Tufnell "a thought". And yet, in effect, he has received an unofficial suspension, just as he did after the 1990-91 Ashes tour. On that occasion he missed the first four Tests against West Indies, was brought back for the fifth, and more or less won the match with 6 for 25.

Any school worth its salt knows that when it resorts to expulsion or rustication, it has failed. Similarly, leaving a player out for non-cricketing reasons is a reflection on the management as well as the player.

Mike Atherton, for one, seems to understand this. In India, in 1992-93, Atherton thought Tufnell was mishandled by Graham Gooch and Keith Fletcher. In his book A Test of Cricket: Know the Game (Hodder, pounds 16.99), Atherton writes: "In India Tufnell performed poorly ... This may or may not have had something to do with the approach of the management ... Some of his behaviour was poor but ... the reaction was, I felt, somewhat heavy-handed."

Atherton is well placed to judge, having been mishandled himself on that tour. Wrongly classified as "not a one-day player", he was left out of the team for a month, and as a result, felt, well, left out. Since then, he too has discovered what it's like to be treated like a schoolboy. Not by the selectors, but by match referees.

No predicament in sport so resembles being sent to the headmaster as being hauled up before the Test-match ref. See me at the end, Atherton minor. Now what's that in your pocket?

There's only one significant difference. At least the schoolboy, as he walks stiffly out of the headmaster's study, doesn't have to go into the next room and take questions from a pack of bloodthirsty reporters.

In other walks of adult life, we manage to get by without this schooliness. Journalists are famously unruly people - Tufnells to a man, and the women are much the same - but in nine years in Fleet Street I can remember only one incident which incurred any kind of disciplinary action.

Cricket, of all games, ought to be able to accommodate the mavericks and oddballs.

By treating them like schoolboys, the authorities just encourage them to behave that way.