Cricket: England place faith in Gooch and Gatting: McCague preferred to Fraser in Ashes tour party while county title pennant is hoisted at Edgbaston for first time in 22 years

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The Independent Online
IT IS a rare event for England's cricket selectors to be congratulated on being short-sighted, rather than accused of it, but in picking a couple of old codgers in Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting for this winter's tour to Australia, they have sensibly looked no further into the future than winning back the Ashes.

Australia have had the urn for quite long enough (the last England captain to have had his fingerprints on it was Gatting himself, in 1987) and if last winter's long-term strategy has been temporarily consigned to a waste-paper basket, then so be it. This is not a schoolboys' outing, even though Gooch, at 41, and Gatting, 37, have been out of short trousers for a few years longer than England ideally would have liked.

England have not even made any concessions to the one-day international chunk of the itinerary, which is also good news, and the presence of Gooch and Gatting is also indicative of the fact that Raymond Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, has a pretty long memory.

While he was captain of Leicestershire in the mid-seventies, and rain reduced a Gillette Cup quarter- final to a 15-overs-a-side slog, Illingworth ripped up the original team sheet and dropped all those approaching their cricketing dotage - including himself and Ken Higgs - for a few sets of younger legs.

This was on the basis that they would be less of a liability in the field, but as the spectators ended up doing most of the retrieving from the Grace Road flower beds when Leicestershire were bowling, this proved to be one of Raymond's less inspired strokes of tactical genius. The lesson he learned that day was that being young is not a lot of use if you aren't very good.

Where the chairman's memory goes back rather too long, however, is in the area of Australian pitches, and it was this factor which had a large bearing in one controversial area of selection, the omission of Angus Fraser. This prompted the only serious discussion of a touring party which was 'wrapped up in an hour', according to Illingworth, and in preferring Martin McCague, of Kent, Illingworth cited McCague's extra pace and bounce on the 'harder Australian pitches'.

However, Illingworth has not been to Australia - at least not in any cricketing capacity - since he captained the 1970-71 tour, and the notion that Australian pitches are all bleached white trampolines is not dissimilar to thinking that all Australian males wear corked hats and play the didgeridoo.

In Brisbane and Melbourne, it is more likely to seam than bounce, Adelaide is on the slow side, and anyone who gets the ball above bail height in Sydney will probably expire through shock. Perth is a different matter, but as four of the five Tests will already have been played by then, it might well be irrelevant.

The other reason for Fraser's omission, Illingworth said, was that he 'looked tired', but while conceding that England's workhorse has at times looked a touch short of the old snap, he is hardly ready for the knackers' yard just yet. McCague has come on strong in the last lap of the domestic season, but there are few physios' couches around the country without his imprint on them, and his Test record is 4 for 293 in two matches.

Another discussion which might have taken a long time, but didn't, was the all-rounder's berth, which went (assuming he comes through a scan on his shins on Tuesday) to Craig White. Dominic Cork, who will otherwise go with the A tour to India, is on standby, while Chris Lewis misses out altogether. This time, when Lewis' name was mentioned in connection with England, it was the selectors who came down with a migraine.

Apart from Gooch and Gatting, there was one other name which made you wonder why Phyllosan was not among the glut of sponsors' names on the board behind Illingworth's head at yesterday's press conference in Manchester. At 33, Joey Benjamin is long in the tooth for a fast bowler, but his fitness record is good, and his away swing gives him a decent chance of competing for one of the Test places.

'We have,' Illingworth said 'gone for a balance and if we had considered younger men were of more or less equal ability to the older ones, we would have gone for them. However, most of these players are longer-term ones, particularly the batsmen.'

John Crawley, as expected, is regarded so highly that his two disappointing Tests have not counted against him, while one of his rivals for a place, Mark Ramprakash, has been made to feel not entirely discarded by his appointment as vice- captain under Alan Wells of Sussex on the A tour.

Steven Rhodes is the only specialist wicketkeeper, with Alec Stewart his immediate deputy and Jack Russell on standby in England in case Rhodes is injured. Shaun Udal got the vote ahead of Peter Such as second spinner to Phil Tufnell.

ENGLAND'S TOUR OF AUSTRALIA: 25 Oct: Chairman's XI (Lilac Hill, Perth). 27: Western Australia (Perth, day/night). 29-1 Nov: Western Australia (Perth). 4-7 Nov: South Australia (Adelaide). 9: Prime Minister's XI (Canberra). 12-15: New South Wales (Sydney). 18-21: Australian XI (Hobart). 25-29: FIRST TEST v AUSTRALIA (Brisbane). 2 Dec: Bradman XI (Bowral). 4: ACT (Canberra). 6: Benson & Hedges World Series: Australia v England (Sydney, d/n). 9-11: AISCBCA (Sydney). 13: B & H WS: Australia A v England (Melbourne, d/n). 15: B & H WS: England v Zimbabwe (Sydney, d/n). 17-20: Queensland (Toowoomba). 24-29: SECOND TEST v AUSTRALIA (Melbourne). 1-5 Jan: THIRD TEST v AUSTRALIA (Sydney). 7: B & H WS: England v Zimbabwe (Brisbane). 10: B & H WS: Australia v England (Melbourne, d/n). 12: B & H WS: Australia A v England (Sydney, d/n). 15: B & H WS: First final (Sydney, d/n). 17: B & H WS: Second final (Melbourne, d/n). 19: B & H WS: Third final (Melbourne, d/n). 21-23*: England v Victoria (Bendigo). 26-30: FOURTH TEST v AUSTRALIA (Adelaide). 3-7 Feb: FIFTH TEST v AUSTRALIA (Perth)

* To be played as a four-day match from 20-23 Jan B & H World Series finals comprise two matches only.

ENGLAND A SQUAD (Tour to India and Bangladesh, 29 Dec to 26 Feb): A P Wells (Sussex, capt), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex, vice-capt), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), J E R Gallian (Lancashire), N V Knight (Essex), D G Cork (Derbyshire), P A Nixon (Leicestershire), K J Piper (Warwickshire), I D K Salisbury (Sussex), P N Weekes (Middlesex), R D Stemp (Yorkshire), M C Ilott (Essex), R L Johnson (Middlesex), M M Patel (Kent), G Chapple (Lancashire). Tour Manager: J R T Barclay. Team Manager: P A Neale.

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----------------------------------------------------------------- 1994 FIRST-CLASS AVERAGES FOR ENGLAND'S ASHES TOUR SQUAD ----------------------------------------------------------------- BATTING M I NO R HS 100 50 Ca St Ave M A Atherton (Lancs) 14 24 0 809 111 2 4 13 - 33.70 J E Benjamin (Surrey) 15 17 1 148 33* - - 5 - 9.25 J P Crawley (Lancs) 18 32 3 1464 281* 3 5 22 - 50.48 P A J DeFreitas (Derb) 13 21 2 545 108 1 3 5 - 28.68 M W Gatting (Middx) 17 26 3 1668 225 6 6 26 - 72.52 G A Gooch (Essex) 15 27 2 1621 236 6 3 14 - 64.84 D Gough (Yorks) 11 16 3 327 65 - 2 1 - 25.15 G A Hick (Worcs) 15 27 1 1491 215 5 5 21 - 57.34 D E Malcolm (Derb) 16 21 9 81 15* - - 2 - 6.75 M J McCague (Kent) 8 14 3 272 56 - 1 4 - 24.72 S J Rhodes (Worcs) 16 24 9 798 100* 1 4 57 7 53.20 A J Stewart (Surrey) 14 22 3 932 142 3 4 17 - 49.05 G P Thorpe (Surrey) 14 23 3 1118 190 2 7 10 - 55.90 P C R Tufnell (Middx) 7 6 1 14 5 - - 5 - 2.80 S D Udal (Hants) 15 27 4 564 83 - 3 14 - 24.52 C White (Yorks) 13 20 2 663 108* 1 5 8 - 36.83 * denotes not out BOWLING O M Runs W Best 5w 10w Ave M A Atherton 7 2 10 0 - - - - J E Benjamin 572.2 129 1586 80 6-27 5 1 19.82 J P Crawley 1 0 4 0 - - - - P A J DeFreitas 516 104 1593 64 6-39 4 - 24.89 M W Gatting 26 4 97 2 1-10 - - 48.50 G A Gooch 31.3 11 60 3 1-0 - - 20.00 D Gough 412.4 82 1310 49 6-70 2 - 26.73 G A Hick 161.2 50 436 11 3-64 - - 39.63 D E Malcolm 529.1 95 1921 65 9-57 3 1 29.55 M J McCague 297.1 58 982 51 9-86 5 1 19.25 A J Stewart 2 0 10 0 - - - - G P Thorpe 5 0 23 0 - - - - P C R Tufnell 383.2 106 939 30 4-17 - - 31.3 S D Udal 628 166 1713 65 6-79 7 1 26.35 C White 235.2 53 761 33 5-40 2 - 23.06 - TCCB official statistics. -----------------------------------------------------------------

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