Cricket: Emburey in line for Indian summer: Martin Johnson, Cricket Correspondent, on the selectors' options as they prepare to announce England's winter squads

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ENGLAND'S selectors will announce on Monday the names of 16 cricketers for whom the Taj Mahal this winter will have more significance as a tourist attraction than the venue for a take-away curry. India is the main course, with a visit to Sri Lanka by way of dessert, and a further 16 will be named to represent the A team in Australia.

The last time England chose a team to visit India, they did so in the knowledge that there was only a remote chance that their aeroplane would actually leave the tarmac, and the politicians, largely because they deemed that Graham Gooch's South African connections made him an unacceptable choice as captain, eventually saw to it that it did not.

Therefore, when England leave shortly after Christmas, it will be getting on for a decade since their last trip there, when the then 26 year-old David Gower led the side to a 2-1 Test series victory, and Mike Gatting, the vice-captain, made his long-overdue first Test match century.

Much has happened to them since, and earlier on this summer it is a fair bet that both would have regarded a seat on the plane as a flight of fantasy. However, it is near certainty that Gower and Gatting will now find themselves occupying pegs in the dressing room, rather than, as was the case last winter, seats in the press box.

After the 1990-91 Ashes debacle in Australia, Gooch decided that Gower's appetite for the game represented an advanced case of anorexia, but their relationship (both professional and private) is now restored, and the thought that his England career might be over hurt badly enough to re-ignite Gower's motivation.

Gatting's appetite, whether it be for raiding the larder or playing for England, has always been of the braces-bursting variety, and it was only his burning resentment at what he (largely irrationally) considered to be the duplicity of the establishment that took him off in a huff to South Africa.

Were Micky Stewart still the team manager, Gower's selection would be more open to doubt, in that it would be difficult to see how they could sustain a working relationship following Gower's criticisms of some of Stewart's methods in his new book.

However, Keith Fletcher is rather more on Gower's wavelength, and the fact that Gower himself is desperately keen to make the tour became even clearer this week with his offer to apologise to the Indian Cricket Board for what amounted to nothing more than a non-malicious, cursory reference in the book to alleged ball-tampering during India's 1990 tour of England.

If Gower does experience any motivational problems this winter, they are likely to arrive after the final Test match, and may well be shared by most other members of the tour party. In the period between the completion of the three- match series and the one-off Test in Sri Lanka, the only scheduled cricket in a span of 18 days will be four one-day internationals.

Not so long ago, it was inconceivable that an England tour to India would consist of only three Test matches, but this winter's programme involves a split of 8-4 in favour of the one-day international - which was precisely the formula when India hosted the West Indies tour a few years ago. Sadly, England is now the only Test-playing nation in the world in which the 'House Full' notices are wheeled out for Test matches as well as the hit-and-giggle format.

However, despite the fact that England won the Texaco Trophy 4-1, this summer's results were undeniably deflationary, and while Gooch's philosophy will demand a squad capable of winning both types of series this winter, the greater emphasis will certainly be on the Test matches.

Of the seven specialist batsmen England are likely to choose, Gooch, Alec Stewart, Robin Smith (earmarked to fill the kiss of death spot at No 3) and Gatting can safely be described as certainties, with Gower and Graeme Hick as probables. This leaves one more place, and with an alternative opener to Stewart required, Michael Atherton is an obvious choice.

Neil Fairbrother and Mark Ramprakash are both likely to miss out, despite having their bank accounts inflated by pounds 15,000 TCCB winter retainers, as is Allan Lamb, whose chances of making the tour were pretty slim even before his tabloid accounts of ball-doctoring in the Test series against Pakistan appeared to make them virtually non-existant.

Three more places are reserved for players that the selectors will probably call all-rounders, but who can more accurately be described as bowlers who might score some runs. Chris Lewis, whose talent, like Hick's, is as yet unfulfilled, and Phillip DeFreitas will be two of them, and while England selectors tend to regard 22-year-olds as barely out of nappies Dominic Cork is a good enough prospect to win them over.

Devon Malcolm, as the only genuinely fast bowler who is fit, will certainly go, and if there is to be a surprise selection, it would mean picking another strike bowler as opposed to the Munton/ Mallender/Small school of medium-pace competence. Kent's Irish-born Australian Martin McCague has finished the season with a rare flourish, and with Australia also eligible to pick him, he might be a timely investment.

With so much emphasis on one- day cricket, Dermot Reeve would be a handy addition to the party, and the tour itinerary also suggests that a third spinner would spend less time twirling his fingers than twiddling his thumbs.

Philip Tufnell and Ian Salisbury (who is also an experienced one- day bowler) would be my choices, but it is more likely that John Emburey will join Gatting in being chosen from the list of previously ineligible players, and that Salisbury will be given the consolation prize of an A tour place.

As Alec Stewart has now made it clear that he does not want to make a career (or at least not a Test career) of keeping wicket, plus the fact that England are likely to play both spinners in the Test matches, a place for a specialist is guaranteed, and there are those who feel that Glamorgan's Colin Metson may have moved ahead of Jack Russell in this department. The irony will not be lost on Russell if he secures the vote on the grounds that he is the better batsman.

It may prove to have been a tougher job picking 16 for the A tour than the senior squad, in that writing down the names of promising players of similar ability is a recipe for a sprained wrist. Among the batsmen for a squad likely to be captained by Martyn Moxon, Nick Speak, John Crawley, Alistair Brown and Martin Speight are strong candidates, as are David Millns, Robert Croft, Paul Taylor and Andrew Caddick among the bowlers.

My 16 for the senior tour would be: Gooch (capt), Stewart (vice-capt), Atherton, Smith, Gatting, Gower, Hick, Russell, Lewis, DeFreitas, Cork, Reeve, Malcolm, McCague, Salisbury, Tufnell.

(Photographs omitted)

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