Almost every time that England have gambled on youth - or, these things being relative, on those occasions that they have not waited until a chap is in early middle-age before giving him a chance - they have been fully rewarded. In the past half- century England have chosen two teenagers, three 20-year-olds and 19 players of 21.
This list contains the country's two leading Test runs scorers, five others in the top 20 and, significantly, the five top wicket- takers. It also has the country's most successful Test wicketkeeper, its most prodigious all-rounder and 9 of the 34 men who have been captain at various times in that period. Two of the others who did not fulfil all their early promise were still good enough to be playing for England at 45 and 39.
By any standards it is a chart of high-achievers and, at the risk of spurning a whole generation of worthy county pros who have served their apprenticeship, is all but an imploration for the selectors to give Ben's mates a fling.
The chart of 24 players is: Brian Close (18 years, 149 days); B Hollioake (19, 269); Graham Dilley (20, 210); Mike Gatting (20, 226); Brian Statham (20, 274); Derek Underwood (21, 22); David Gower (21, 30); Gerald Smithson (21, 81); Fred Trueman (21, 120); Alan Knott (21, 123); Mike Atherton (21, 140); Pat Pocock (21, 158); David Sheppard (21, 159); Peter May (21, 207); Norman Cowans (21, 209); Bob Willis (21, 224); Ian Botham (21, 242); Mark Ramprakash (21, 274); John Dewes (21, 279); Chris Silverwood (21, 288); Nasser Hussain (21, 333); Alan Ward (21, 348); Graham Gooch (21, 352); David Larter (21, 357).
The leading scorers are, of course, Gooch and Gower, the wicket takers are Botham, Willis, Trueman, Underwood and Statham, the wicketkeeper is Knott, the all-rounder is Botham, the captains are Close, Gatting, Gower, Atherton, Sheppard, May, Willis, Botham and Gooch, the old boys were Close and Pocock. Considering that 276 players have made their debuts for England since the war that surely proves the sagacity of getting players in early. Of those no longer playing, perhaps only Smithson, Larter, Ward, Cowans and Dewes might have been expected to do more.
But the wily old veterans should not give up completely. Since picking Close and the 22 others of 21 or under, England's selectors have also picked 23 of 31 or over including players as influential as Mike Brearley and Basil D'Oliveira.
TOSSING is an area of Mike Atherton's game that he might seriously consider improving. Heartening though it was to observe that the England captain was having private batting practice sessions with Graham Gooch, there has been no indication that he is working on his coin-flipping technique.
The consequence of this is that he has lost five tosses in a row in this series and 27 in his 45 matches as England captain, not a proud record. Earlier in his tenure he failed with six successive tosses (spanning two series) and he has never improved upon the three consecutive successful calls he made in his first three matches as skipper.
Mind you, in Atherton's case it may not mean much. Of the 18 tosses he has won his side have gone on to win the match only four times while they have won seven lost-toss matches.
As for his adversary Mark Taylor, who keeps calling tails correctly, he was due a change of fortune. Before the recent run of five, the Australian captain had won 11 and lost 16 and had never won more than two in a row. Not that it makes much difference to him either. With Taylor as captain, Australia have won nine times having won the toss and eight times having lost it.
THE future of cricket seemed all too obvious. Before the impressive presentation of what has become known as the MacLaurin Report at Lord's on Tuesday there was, to set the scene, a sequence of televised excerpts from Test matches. All the commentary to be heard was from Sky's coverage, not the BBC's.
Book mark: "But getting the structure right is not in itself enough. It is the people who are involved in the game... who will ultimately make the difference. It will be their professionalism, their self-discipline, their performance and their commitment which will determine the success of our cricket - qualities which we believe these reforms will help to set free." From Raising the Standard, the ECB's blueprint for the playing structure of cricket.
Ryan Sidebottom is 19 and the son of Arnie, the former Manchester United footballer more widely known as a Yorkshire and, once, England seam bowler. Ryan took 7 for 30 on Thursday, the best ever figures returned for the England Under-19 team. The opposition, Zimbabwe, were not of the most resilient variety but Sidebottom exhibited pace, swing and bounce which are fairly important attributes against any team. Unlike his dad he bowls left arm and bats left-handed. Incidentally, he supports not Manchester United but Huddersfield, where he was born and where his dad played after leaving Old Trafford. His analysis on Thursday at Edgbaston, which beat Peter Such's former record of 7 for 72, made him the 25th bowler to take five wickets in an innings for the Under-19s. Of those only five have gone on to play for the senior England side.