All-rounders on England fringe
Derek Pringle suggests those who can plan their winters abroad
For the main tour, which will venture forth to Zimbabwe and then New Zealand, little discussion will be needed. Only the places reserved for all-rounder, fifth seamer and second spinner will require cases to be put forward and democratic argument to unfold. A situation the A team tour to Australia, and arguably the more difficult of the two tours, will certainly require.
With only six batsmen, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Thorpe, Crawley and Knight, certain to go, the selectors will probably opt for an all-rounder good enough to bat at No 6 in a Test match.
It is a stipulation which ought to rule out Ealham and Lewis, whose batting and bowling during the season gradually became as shoddy as his tyre changing. A decline which will leave the selectors the difficult task of choosing between the bristling testosterone of Irani and Hollioake. A choice perhaps better made by a truffling pig than a disgruntled Yorkshireman.
Picking a second spinner to compliment the tenacity of Robert Croft's off-spin may also require some special divination. For one thing the best and most consistent spinner in the land is Peter Such. Unfortunately for the Essex off-spinner, only Sri Lanka tend to play two off-spinners, a format that has yet to elevate their Test form to the heady successes of their one-day game.
Phil Tufnell is another possible and John Emburey's presence as a coach might be the fillip he needs to compete confidently again. However, while he has always had his supporters, the current England captain and the man he succeeded to the job are not thought to be amongst them. Which means Ian Salisbury, Richard Stemp and Warwickshire's Ashley Giles will all be considered.
The bowling would be completed by five seamers, including Dominic Cork, who would go on the Zimbabwe leg in order to have his knee exercises properly supervised by the England physio, Wayne Morton. He would play only in an emergency, saving himself for New Zealand and leaving the early hard work to Mullally, Gough, Caddick and Martin.
Jack Russell will again resume his career until another calamity requires Alec Stewart to take the gloves again. Far less easy though, will be the choice of a gloveman for Australia.
Mark Ramprakash is the hot favourite to be captain, the selectors perhaps hoping a spell of authority with the A team will have similar benefits to those enjoyed by Nasser Hussain, who flowered under the added authority. Other batting candidates would be Mark Butcher, Tony McGrath and the Worcestershire pair of Ruben Spiring and Vikram Solanki, while the pace bowling places could well be filled by Ashley Cowan, Andy Harris, Chris Silverwood and Middlesex's Richard Johnson.
Having fallen from grace, Graeme Hick will have a restful winter. Apparently, he had planned to spend Christmas Day entertaining team-mates with a barbecue at his parents tobacco farm. With two years' wait to become re-registered with Zimbabwe, the party may still go ahead. His future team-mates presumably already knowing their way there.
Possible England squad: M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, N V Knight, R C Irani, R C Russell (wkt), D C Cork, D Gough, A R Caddick, R D B Croft, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell, P J Martin.
Possible A team squad: M R Ramprakash (capt), A J Hollioake, M A Butcher, C J Adams, K R Spiring, V S Solanki, A McGrath, A F Giles, P M Such, R J Rollins (wkt), A P Cowan, R L Johnson, C W Silverwood, A J Harris.
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