Cricket: England opt for limited changes

Cricket: Ramprakash out as selectors choose Vaughan, Adams, Hamilton and Swann for Test squad in South Africa
Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER DAYS of agonising deliberation, and no doubt with their collective fingers crossed too, the selectors have begun the process of redressing English cricket's shop window for the new millennium.

Selection is a fine art and following a home season that many felt might have seen better results if 11 showroom dummies had been chosen, new faces were required. In the end four - Michael Vaughan, Gavin Hamilton, Chris Adams and Graeme Swann - have been picked for the Test series against South Africa this winter. Another, Vikram Solanki of Worcestershire, has been picked for the one-day series that starts there and continues in Zimbabwe during mid-January.

Inevitably with new blood being transfused for old, there were casualties too, though only one, Mark Ramprakash, was from the old guard. Many will feel the cull of established players should have gone further and that all the team has been given is a cosmetic makeover.

Of those felt to be over-associated with recent failures, such as Phil Tufnell and Alec Stewart, Ramprakash was perhaps unlucky to be singled out. Like Milan Kundera's Prague of the late 1960s, the Middlesex dressing- room, especially over the next week, will not be a place of laughter and forgetting.

Speaking after yesterday's announcements, the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, attempted to deflect those waiting to bellow "Fudge" by pointing out that with seven players aged 25 or under, and with eight of the squad sharing just eight caps between them, considerable change had in fact taken place.

"Our policy is very clear," Graveney explained. "We want to plan for the Ashes in 2001 and the World Cup in 2003.

"We won't hide the truth. It has been a bitterly disappointing summer for English cricket. The challenge ahead of us is not to be under-estimated but we feel we have a competitive squad under the new management of Duncan Fletcher. There are a lot of words coming out of South Africa that it is going to be 5-0 and that revenge will be theirs. We think we can surprise them."

In truth picking this team probably gave all three selectors sleepless nights, with cases being made for changing 90 per cent of the team that played at The Oval, to keeping 90 per cent of it - which, in fact, is what Hussain promised before England went down in a heap on the fourth day.

For the critics who feel all solutions lie with blooding the young, it will not be enough. However, those who cite the Australian side of the mid-80s, as a team that picked and stuck with untried youngsters tend to forget that the situation was forced on them, not by poor results, but by the rebel tour to South Africa.

Even then, they had a core of experienced players such as Allan Border, Graeme Wood, Geoff Marsh and David Boon, which is presumably why England added youth without bowing to it completely.

"Our major plan behind selection," Graveney said, "was to have a spine of experience running through the team. We realised the country wanted change and we feel we've embraced that." He also hinted that the input of the new coach, Duncan Fletcher, despite his absence all summer, had been on an equal footing with his and Hussain's.

The players singled out to provide that spine - Hussain, Atherton, Stewart, Gough and Tufnell - make interesting reading. At least two, Atherton (back) and Gough (all moving parts below the waist), have long-term fitness problems, while Tufnell, fortunate to survive a summer where only two of is victims were top-six batsmen, is generally thought to be invertebrate, especially with a bat in his hand.

According to Graveney, Stewart will start off as wicket-keeper and bat at either five or six. As near a perfectionist as one can get in English cricket, at least in terms of preparation, Stewart's dedication, though not his dismissal of foreign culture, will be no bad thing for the new boys to take on board, if only in small doses.

The newcomers break neatly into two groups: batsmen - Adams and Vaughan; and all-rounders - Hamilton and Swann, though both the latter favour bat over ball. Hamilton, you remember, did well with Scotland in the World Cup, though that should not be a yardstick. Playing for a poor team with no expectations is far different to playing for a poor one with huge expectations, something he will find out in due course.

At this stage, it looks as if each of the uncapped players will be in direct competition with each other within the disciplines, though the relative newcomer Darren Maddy (bat) and Andrew Flintoff (all-rounder) will also come into the equation. Although competition for places is healthy it would be far better for the team if the youngsters were putting pressure on the senior players as well, rather than themselves. Players, especially those who need to raise their game, need to be pushed from below as well as above.

Vaughan, who won plaudits for his captaincy of England A last winter, is a determined soul. Playing as a batsman at Headingley you have to be. So far this season Vaughan has 683 first-class runs at 25.29. He has scored two hundreds, as many as anyone else in the squad, though both came in the same match against Essex at Chelmsford, one of three venues that offer decent batting surfaces on a regular basis.

The other places where a batsmen might prosper without threat from more than a dozen unplayable balls, are The Oval and Hove. The latter is home to Adams, whose captaincy of Sussex has been, according to Graveney, "impressive".

Adams, who had played most of his cricket previously on green pitches at Derby, has upped his average since leaving two years ago, but not dramatically so. Those closely involved with him speak not of technique but tenacity and power. When Dean Jones captained Derbyshire, the Australian thought Adams was a diamond. It is an assertion Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock will test to the hilt this winter.

Expected as it was, the return of Darren Gough and Alex Tudor will not be rubber-stamped until both have satisfied the new physio, Dean Conway. Gough may well play before the season ends, while Tudor sees a specialist about the hotspot under his left knee-cap today. Any potential replacements will be named in the England A team, announced on Monday.

With much recent gossip hinting at dressing-room disquiet, Gough's return is vital for morale as well as firepower. Injury is a cruel thing, and if England are to compete favourably with South Africa, they must avoid its debilitating grasp. They must also play for each other, not always a natural thing to do when there are central contracts up for grabs.

If the 20th century has not ended well for England, the 21st will at least begin with some fresh faces and a new coach in place. That should, at least, bring some optimism, until someone has the gumption to change the domestic system.

TEST SQUAD AVERAGES

BATTING

Tests Inns No Runs HS Ave 100 50

M A Atherton 90 167 6 6178 185* 38.37 12 38

M A Butcher 22 43 1 1087 116 25.88 2 4

A R Caddick 25 39 4 417 45 11.91 0 0

D Gough 31 47 6 468 65 11.41 0 2

D W Headley 15 26 4 186 31 8.45 0 0

N Hussain 42 76 6 2604 207 37.20 7 11

D L Maddy 1 2 0 19 14 9 50 0 0

A D Mullally 16 24 4 117 24 5.85 0 0

C M W Read 3 4 0 38 37 9.50 0 0

A J Stewart 90 164 12 6185 190 40.69 12 32

A J Tudor 3 6 3 166 99* 55.33 0 1

P C R Tufnell 38 53 26 137 22* 5.07 0 0

A Flintoff 2 3 0 17 17 5.66 0 0

C J Adams, M P Vaughan, G M Hamilton and G P Swann have yet to play a Test.

BOWLING

Ovrs M Runs Wkts Av 5Wkt 10Wkt Best

Butcher 44 10 128 1 128.00 0 0 1 for 25

Caddick 942.3 213 2806 94 29.85 6 0 6 for 65

Gough 1116 216 3578 125 28.62 5 0 6 for 42

Headley 504.2 82 1671 60 27.85 1 0 6 for 60

Mullally 665.4 186 1591 51 31.19 1 0 5 for 105

Tudor 58.2 12 239 8 29.87 0 0 4 for 89

Tufnell 1669.4 468 3954 114 34.68 5 2 7 for 47

Flintoff 35 5 112 1 112.00 0 0 1 for 52

ONE-DAY SQUAD AVERAGES

BATTING

Matches Inns No Runs HS Av 100 50 Ct St

N V Knight 44 44 3 1620 125n 39.51 3 9 15 0

G A Hick 96 95 11 3271 126n 38.94 5 22 51 0

A R Caddick 9 5 4 35 20n 35.00 0 0 2 0

N Hussain 33 33 7 743 93 28.57 0 4 16 0

M W Alleyne 4 4 1 76 38n 25.33 0 0 0 0

A F Giles 5 3 2 17 10n 17.00 0 0 1 0

A Flintoff 9 6 0 100 50 16.66 0 1 0 0

M A Ealham 39 28 1 446 45 16.51 0 0 4 0

C J Adams 2 2 0 28 25 14.00 0 0 2 0

D Gough 65 43 14 329 45 11.34 0 0 10 0

A D Mullally 29 13 5 46 20 5.75 0 0 5 0

D L Maddy 2 1 0 1 1 1.00 0 0 0 0

BOWLING

Overs M Runs Wkt Av 5Wkt Best

A D Mullally 133.0 21 423 27 15.66 3 4 for 20

M W Alleyne 158.4 15 556 29 19.17 1 4 for 14

M A Ealham 161.1 13 594 30 19.80 1 4 for 39

D Gough 86.5 8 324 16 20.25 1 4 for 34

A R Caddick 143.0 29 427 21 20.33 0 3 for 16

A F Giles 122.1 8 509 24 21.20 1 4 for 29

A Flintoff 99.0 5 465 18 25.83 0 3 for 60

C J Adams 66.2 3 307 10 30.70 0 3 for 22

D L Maddy 46.5 2 228 7 32.57 0 3 for 27

G M Hamilton 148.1 14 713 19 37.52 1 4 for 33

G A Hick 15.0 0 83 2 41.50 0 1 for 26

V S Solanki 2.0 0 7 0 0.00 0 0 for 0

Comments