Cricket: England recall the old guard

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The Independent Online
THE ANNOUNCEMENT of England's team for the third Test at Old Trafford, proves that predictable behaviour is not limited to the likes of lemmings and migrating wildebeest. Short-term expediency versus long-term investment has long been the dilemma at the heart of selection and following ignominious defeat at the hands of New Zealand, the panel have responded in time-honoured fashion by dropping new boy Aftab Habib, and recalling three thirty-somethings in the shape of Michael Atherton, Graeme Hick and Peter Such.

The lack of adventure by David Graveney and co is startling but unsurprising. County cricket is now so bereft of proper contests on good surfaces, that it is impossible to judge young talent any more and the only surprise is that Angus Fraser has not been reinstated to a 14-man squad that boasts just five players under 30. Mind you, he has probably been asked to stand by at the Watford Gap service station just in case of last-minute niggles to the four main pace bowlers, one of whom is Chris Silverwood.

Atherton's return, providing his back is as sturdy as he claims, is both justified and desirable. Nasser Hussain apart, England's batting has lacked technique and staying power. It is nothing new and England have failed to top 200 in their first innings from 12 of their last 23 Tests.

Against a team as modestly equipped as New Zealand, that is deplorable and fearing the absence of their injured captain - still hoping for his broken finger to mend in time - the selectors have fast-tracked Atherton's return, though not as a stand-in captain. Hussain has given himself until Wednesday to be fit.

"Nasser's been trying to put a glove on at home and fiddle with a bat," said Graveney, the chairman of selectors: "And if it's a positive indication he's shaking hands with his right hand rather than his left, and we will be giving him the maximum amount of time to get fit." If Hussain is not fit, Mark Butcher will lead the side.

"When I returned after injury I set my sights on a tour place to South Africa," said Atherton yesterday. "Obviously, it's come a bit earlier than everyone thought but injury and defeat in the last Test has forced the selectors to look for something else." When asked about the captaincy, he was adamant that it would neither be right for him, nor the team. "You have to look forward," he said with a sly grin, mindful that the selectors had done anything but.

As one who prostrates himself to the team ethic, Atherton would not have countenanced a comeback unless he was not sure of his fitness. "I've always said that 31 was too young to retire. There are two provisos to that. One is being fit, while the other is playing well. At the moment I'm confident that both are being fulfilled."

The inclusion of Hick and Such, 33 and 35 respectively, is less laudable and while both players continue to outperform the competition at county level, their presence at an age when most countries are pensioning their players off, is either a sign that young talent simply cannot be trusted, or at least the conditions that forge them can't. Like Habib (surprisingly the only casualty of the selectors' displeasure), Michael Vaughan, Graeme Swann, Darren Maddy, Gavin Hamilton and David Sales, whose unbeaten 303 broke Len Hutton's record as the youngest Englishman to score a first- class triple century, are all on the fringe of the England team. Yet until the system that nurtures them is made more rigorous, exposing them to Test cricket is pure, rather than calculated, risk.

Chris Read survives, but he may not make the final XI. Thursday's Test pitch at Old Trafford was used twice in the World Cup, and is set to help spin. For the sake of balancing a side containing two spinners who cannot bat, Alec Stewart may yet keep wicket and bat at seven. If he does, and Hussain is fit, it will probably be between Hick and Mark Ramprakash, once again riven by self-doubt, for the problematic number six spot.

ENGLAND SQUAD TEST AVERAGES

BATTING

T Inn No Agg HS Av 100s 50s ct st

A J Stewart (Surrey) 88 160 11 6054 190 40.63 12 31 156 7

G P Thorpe (Surrey) 55 101 12 3493 138 39.24 6 24 52 0

M A Atherton (Lancs) 88 163 6 6045 185no 38.50 12 37 58 0

N Hussain (Essex) 41 74 6 2555 207 37.57 7 11 34 0

G A Hick (Worcs) 53 93 6 2993 178 34.40 5 17 76 0

M R Ramprakash (Middx) 36 64 5 1602 154 27.15 1 9 25 0

M A Butcher (Surrey) 21 41 1 1073 116 26.82 2 4 20 0

C M W Read (Notts) 2 3 0 38 37 12.66 0 0 10 1

A R Caddick (Somerset) 23 36 4 387 45 12.09 0 0 10 0

D W Headley (Kent) 14 25 4 168 31 8.00 0 0 7 0

P M Such (Essex) 10 15 5 67 14no 6.70 0 0 3 0

A D Mullally (Leics) 15 22 4 109 24 6.05 0 0 4 0

P C R Tufnell (Middx) 36 50 25 135 22no 5.40 0 0 12 0

C E W Silverwood (Yorks) 1 1 0 0 0 0.00 0 0 1 0

BOWLING

O M R Wkts Av 5w 10w Best

C E W Silverwood 25.0 8 71 4 17.75 0 0 3-63

D W Headley 473.2 77 1556 59 26.37 1 0 6-60

A R Caddick 853.2 181 2593 86 30.15 6 0 6-65

A D Mullally 628.4 173 1530 47 32.55 1 0 5-105

P M Such 479.4 124 1128 33 34.18 2 0 6-67

P C R Tufnell 1592.4 450 3745 107 35.00 5 2 7-47

G A Hick 496.3 128 1248 22 56.72 0 0 4-126

M R Ramprakash 140.1 16 445 4 111.25 0 0 1-2

M A Butcher 42.0 10 115 1 115.00 0 0 1-25

M A Atherton 68.0 12 302 2 151.00 0 0 1-20

A J Stewart 3.2 0 13 0 0.00 0 0 0-0

G P Thorpe 23.0 7 37 0 0.00 0 0 0-0

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