Cricket Diary: Candidates for a winter of discontent

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The Independent Online
If the selectors are to continue with their bold, newly acquired youth policy they may like to consider a swift way of executing it. Instead of sitting round a table for hours trying to balance the achievement and potential of various young tyros they could simply choose by consensus.

To that end they need look no further than the Cricketers Who's Who under the section labelled Young Players To Look Out For (or YPTLOF). In this, all professionals are invited to name those whom they suspect will make an enduring impression on the game. Some decline to do so, others stop narrowly short of nominating the family dog.

Indeed, the candidates this year included two golfers, a race horse trainer and, in a sparkling demonstration of cricketers' wit, at least two players over 40. Such maverick approaches cannot prevent a proper picture of the promising from emerging.

It can now be revealed that the revolutionary England A squad announced last week two does not fully reflect this. Thirteen of the party of 16 are under the age of 25, so might therefore qualify as YPTLOFs. Of these only five appear in the official YPTLOF top 20, though they include three from the top four.

David Sales is the top YPTLOF with 23 votes, Owais Shah is joint second with 22 and Ben Hollioake is fourth with 21. The other top 20 YPTLOFs who are also touring are Darren Mady (10th, 10 votes) and David Nash (15th, 7 votes).

Some players who have earned the selectorial nod for Kenya and Sri Lanka barely registered a few months ago among fellow professionals. Jonathan Powell, the 18-year-old Essex off-spinner, mustered four votes (all from Essex colleagues), while Chris Silverwood garnered five. But Dean Cosker, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles each managed only two mentions, James Ormond just one and Paul Hutchison and Chris Read had impressed precisely nobody.

Still, they should worry. It is the YPTLOFs who have been ignored who may spend a winter of introspection. Some of them have had indifferent seasons (though in a true YPTLOF that should not matter too much), others may have been unlucky because the selectors chose the traditional method of picking their team.

So, those who have missed out in descending order include Vikram Solanki (22 votes), Andy Harris (19), Steve Peters (17), Jason Laney (13), Anurag Singh (13), Anthony McGrath (11), Alun Evans (nine), Darren Alltree (eight), Rob Cunliffe (eight) and Alex Morris (eight). There lies a lot of talent. David Graveney and his chums could have had a much easier time of it.

FEW English batsmen (oh, all right, none) have managed the sort of run assembled by Steve James. A spot on the A tour was the least he deserved and it takes little scrutiny of his record to show that if weight of first- class runs is to count for anything he is desperately unlucky not to be going elsewhere.

James, 30 last week, believes the turning point in his career came at Leicester in early September 1995 when he scored 230 not out and a lifetime of practice and effort clicked into place. He has never looked back. Starting with that innings, James has played 70 between then and now. In 18 of them he has been out in single figures, in 22 between 10 and 50. But has made 14 half centuries and 16 centuries. The latter represents a ratio of one in fewer than every five visits to the crease, which is attained only by the very best.

Mike Atherton, for instance, to pluck out another opener at random, has averaged a century around every 10 innings throughout his career. That comparison may be slightly unfair as James' career figure is not dissimilar. But since he discovered himself his form has been quite something. If he can sustain it for a little while longer he stands to be the first non-Test player since the war to be both the leading run scorer and top of the averages.

AS Lord MacLaurin declares himself for a two-divisional County Championship and the counties are preparing to ditch the idea of a three-conference structure with play-offs it is worth recalling the words of Raising The Standard, published just six weeks ago.

It firmly rejected a two- division structure not least because "there is a strong feeling that second-division status might make it very hard for a number of counties to survive." The old 18- county status quo, it is then. Who said that MacLaurin was much too smart to join Altham, Clark, Murray and Acfield to name but four authors of previous reports, who have talked much good sense and achieved little?

Book mark: "Remember cricket is an amusement and manly sport intended for good fellowship, and not as a vehicle for envy, hatred, malice or uncharitableness. If you have any complaint against your captain, tell him to his face quietly what you think; but do not form conspiracies against him behind his back. The grumblers and makers of mischief are always the greatest muffs and the worst enemies of cricket." It could have been The Botham Report, published last week, it is actually from Echoes from Old Cricket Fields by Frederick Gale, written in 1871. Winter well.

nursery end

The time has come when The Diary must choose the Nursery Ender of the Year. So many young cricketers, at last, though it is perhaps fortunate that Australians are barred. Ricky Ponting and Jason Gillespie, both 22, would have been difficult to ignore. England's 19-year-old Ben Hollioake performed wonders at Lord's. But the palm goes to a batsman mentioned not once as Young Player To Look Out For or much, if at all, in the A squad selection meeting. Last year he scored a century on his debut for Cambridge University, this summer he has got into a title-chasing Kent side, has made a maiden Championship hundred and believes, refreshingly, that England players should have "greater ambition in their own performance - technically and temperamentally". He is Ed Smith.