CRICKET : Selectors face sight of new blood

Michael Atherton, whose winter post-mortem only just stopped short of the suggestion that England might win a few more Test matches if they began scoring as many runs as the combined ages of their selectors, will shortly discover whether or not he is to be given a younger face or two to help him pick the team this summer.

There are three permanent selectors, Atherton, the captain, Ray Illingworth, the chairman, and Keith Fletcher, the team manager, plus two co-opted members, Fred Titmus and Brian Bolus. However, Titmus, 61, and Bolus, 62, are up for re-election tomorrow, less than a month after Atherton called for selectors who were "more in touch with the dynamics of the modern game."

Standing against them are Jack Simmons, the former Lancashire off spinner, and David Graveney, ex-captain of Gloucestershire and Durham. At 53 and 42, both fit Atherton's criterion rather better than the present incumbents. Neither has played Test cricket, although it is 32 and 21 years respectively (pre-helmet, and to Atherton's way of thinking, prehistoric) since Bolus and Titmus last played for England.

Graveney stood unsuccessfully 12 months ago, with Bolus and Titmus voted in largely on Illingworth's personal recommendation. However, Illingworth's stock has not exactly shot through the roof in the aftermath of another Ashes drubbing, and while Titmus is likely to be re-elected, Bolus's position is under serious threat from Graveney.

Atherton also let it be known in Australia that the combined majority vote of Illingworth, Bolus and Titmus left him without the squad he wanted for the Ashes series, although Titmus has subsequently contradicted that suggestion. "The only time I can ever recall a lengthy debate over a place was between [John] Crawley and [Graham] Thorpe at Lord's last summer," adding that Illingworth had "almost always" accommodated Atherton's wishes.

Titmus also fired a broadside at Atherton for the captain's suggestion that he had been lumbered with too many old players in Australia, with the unspoken suggestion that this had not been Atherton's doing. "At no time during selection," Titmus said, "was a youth policy ever mentioned by captain or manager."

The manager will certainly merit debate at this week's Test and County Cricket Board spring meeting. Fletcher still has two years of a five-year contract to run, and is only likely to finish prematurely if he decides to fall on his own sword. However, the Board's concern about Fletcher's poor record since taking over from Micky Stewart in 1992 will probably fall short of a hanging vote.

A more likely outcome is that Fletcher himself, who is becoming increasingly careworn in the job, will re-evaluate his own position at the end of this summer's six-Test series against the West Indies. As for Illingworth, he requires not only a summer of steady advance, but also firmer evidence that he and Atherton are pulling in the same direction rather than trying to score points off each other.

n In a circular sent to the 18 first-class counties, the Cricketers' Association, representing the country's 360 professionals, has threatened to refuse to sign their 1995 TCCB contracts - which in effect are a declaration that they agree to abide by the rules and regulations set out for the domestic game - unless a £20,000 minimum wage for capped players is instituted.

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