Cricket: Adams leads the African fringe contingent

Stephen Brenkley suggests Sussex's captain should be called on to stiffen the resistance this winter
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IF THERE is an element of surprise in the England touring party for South Africa when it is revealed this week it may only arrive in being announced through a megaphone in ancient Greek from the roof of David Graveney's garden shed. The names to be reeled off are probably predictable. This is not to say it will be a boring list but nor will it be an adventurous one.

In the latter regard, the selectors have already strayed as far into Indiana Jones territory as they are likely to in the choices they made for the final Test against New Zealand. They will not be of a mind to take further risks for the winter and one of their number, Nasser Hussain, the captain, admitted as much by saying that 90 per cent, if not 100 per cent, of the squad of 13 picked at The Oval would be on the main tour.

That leaves 1.3 players at risk unless the panel were to make a rapid adjustment - and they have left themselves the turning area of a sixpence to do so.

It is not necessarily the proper policy and, indeed, given the continued lamentable batting by the top order at The Oval on Friday it is decidedly improper. Still, in the wake of Graham Thorpe's reported withdrawal, it would be a big call to leave out men such as Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart, good players both, but who now owe England a couple of big scores. A call that might be brave to make, especially perhaps in the case of Stewart who looks disenchanted both with his game and the game.

The selection, as important a one as there has been for many a long year (though we seem to have been saying that for several years now), could hardly have been made earlier, considering that the season finishes so much later now.

In the old days, the players were usually known in late July, but then they were not only travelling by boat soon after but had also played many more matches. In recent years it became traditional to pick the touring squad after the NatWest Trophy final in the first week in September with the season about to end.

A few weeks ago, Graveney, the chairman of selectors, indicated that he might like to prolong the choice to give fringe players a greater chance to state their case in the later stages of the Championship. The idea seems to have been ditched, perhaps because the Championship is held in such low esteem. Anybody still seeking to impress has left it too late. The selectors had better be sure about this too. They are not, incidentally, picking the A or one-day squads until early September.

Discussion on the party could easily be curtailed. Pick the 13 on duty last week and add Chris Read, who has been rightly assured that he is bound for the Cape this winter, Darren Gough (assuming and hoping, as all England followers must, that he is fit), Alex Tudor and Dean Headley. This would mean a squad of six batsmen, seven seam bowlers, one specialist spinner, a seaming all-rounder, an off-spinning all-rounder and a wicketkeeper.

Unbalanced as that looks, it would give a chance for the batsmen to play many innings to find form while the seamers could be easily rotated. It will not happen and nor should it. At least one more batsman - probably two - must be taken to cover for injury, complete loss of form and simply because it is unhealthy for anybody to be guaranteed a place.

Mark Butcher, the scapegoat for The Oval, will be in mind because despite his inconsistency he seems on the verge of being a genuinely accomplished international player, but what of the unsung, unfortunate Steve James? As for the middle order, Graeme Hick might yet be mentioned again.

Serious deliberation, however, deserves to be given to Nick Knight, as a batsman at five or six (where he made his only Test hundred), and the uncapped Chris Adams. He is 29 but he has guts and an array of front- foot attacking strokes. He should not be allowed to end his days without playing for England in a Test.

A seamer might have to be left out and though Ed Giddins was preferred to Chris Silverwood at The Oval, the Yorkshireman has been overlooked too often in the final XI to be omitted now. Headley could be overlooked but that is to discard his big heart as well. Ronnie Irani might also be left out for Andrew Flintoff, who biffed a timely century on Friday and should have been in all summer.

Tomorrow, two days before the party is declared, the First Class Forum meet to discuss central contracts and the hotch-potch which passes as a first-class fixture list among other matters. In awarding the contracts they might like to bear in mind the recent controversy over alleged ill- feeling in the England dressing-room. If only six players, say, have contracts, how would the other five feel?

Possible party: N Hussain (capt), M A Atherton, D L Maddy, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe or N V Knight, A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, C J Adams, A Flintoff, C M W Read, D Gough, A R Caddick, E S H Giddins, C E W Silverwood, A D Mullally, A J Tudor, G P Swann.