Cricket: Echoes of Hussain's first tour resonate now

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YOU ALWAYS remember your first tour. The first full England trip Nasser Hussain went on, to the West Indies 10 years ago, was also the first one I went on, as cricket correspondent of a new paper called the Independent on Sunday. (Like him, I soon fell foul of the whims of the selectors.)

The more you look at England's squad for this winter, the clearer it becomes that Hussain had that tour in mind when he sat down to make his choices. It is 1989-90 all over again. Then, England had just suffered a home defeat - a 4-0 thrashing by Australia, whom England, as holders of the Ashes, had been expected to beat.

There were the usual cries for new blood, amplified by the fact that it was the end of a decade. England had a new captain: a seasoned international with relatively little captaincy experience, who came from Essex - Graham Gooch. He made sure that he had more of a say in selection than his predecessor (David Gower) and that the touring party was formed at least partly in his own image.

An easy-going chairman of selectors (Ted Dexter then, David Graveney now) gave the captain and coach (Micky Stewart then, Duncan Fletcher now) a largely free hand. The result was that one or two big names were controversially left behind: Gower and Ian Botham then, Mark Ramprakash now. The captain wielded the new broom so vigorously that he left himself with no obvious deputy. For lack of anyone else, he went for Allan Lamb, a fine player who duly lost all three of the Tests in which he deputised for Gooch. At least he was announced at the same time as the rest of the squad, whereas Hussain, who has already got through two No 2s in four Tests, has yet to come up with a choice for the winter.

The sudden vacancies in the top order were filled by three novices - Hussain, who was only 20, Rob Bailey, 26, and Alec Stewart, a late developer at 27. None of them had the technique for the job, although all of them had the bottle. Bailey was a classic English front-footer, just like Chris Adams a decade later; and Adams, at 29, is an even later developer than Stewart. In 10 Test appearances between them on the tour, Hussain, Stewart and Bailey made not one fifty. On the other hand, two of them went on to be England captains, and both are now among the world's top 10 batsmen, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Knowing that the opposition would prepare pitches to suit their four- man pace attack, England decided to fight fire with fire. At least that is what they said they were going to do, and they did choose an all-seam attack for every Test. But three of their first-choice firebrands were Angus Fraser (military medium-fast), Gladstone Small (ditto) and David Capel (not so military, and even less fast). In practice, the policy boiled down to: "we're going to play Devon Malcolm" - who then had one Test wicket at a cost of 166. The gamble paid off spectacularly: Malcolm took 10 wickets in the second Test at Port of Spain. This time, four seamers again offer England's best, maybe only, hope of a respectable result. Our untried and untested batsmen will be facing Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Jacques Kallis and either Allan Donald, if recovered from a persistent injury, or David Terbrugge, who is unknown here but is another talented ginger swinger in the Pollock mould. So it is fairly obvious what the pitches will be like.

Hussain must reply in kind, subjecting the South Africans' brittle top order to an unremitting diet of Gough, Alex Tudor, Andy Caddick and Alan Mullally, and hoping that Gough's reverse-swung yorker, now said to be the cause of his latest injury, is there to take out the world's strongest tail. Even if Gough remains unfit, England should still have four seamers. Even a part-time bowler such as Andy Flintoff should be able to bowl to a plan and an offside field, as Capel did 10 years ago and as Kallis does now.

The spinners, in other words, will be virtual passengers. Phil Tufnell can take the role played by Eddie Hemmings on Gooch's tour - repeatedly named in the Test 12 as a sop to his seniority, but never allowed on to the field except with a tray in his hand. And Graeme Swann can be the new Keith Medlycott - the youngster who is only there for the experience.

One reason that England did so well in Port of Spain was because their hosts were distracted by a racial issue. Viv Richards referred to his side as the one African-descended team in the world that dominated its sport. This was, in effect, true, but to the half of Trinidad's population that is of Indian descent, it looked like racial discrimination. Some of the crowd were cheering for England. The same thing could happen this winter if South Africa's selectors do not apply the quota system, which is opposed by the captain, Hansie Cronje, but supported by the new chairman of selectors, Rushdie Magiet.

Gooch's team, like Hussain's, were widely written off before they got to Heathrow. England had lost 14 of their previous 15 Tests against West Indies. But they stepped out into the cauldron of Sabina Park, Kingston, and won the first Test by nine wickets. They would have won the second as well if it had not been for rain and some wily time-wasting from Desmond Haynes. Gooch broke his hand, Fraser went lame, the moment passed and England had to be content with an honourable 2-1 defeat. Hussain will be doing well if he matches that.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly and