Cricket: Fordham fit to play the lead

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The Independent Online
IN AUSTRALIA, selection is meritocratic; in England, all too often, it is hierarchical, based on seniority. For a change, therefore, it would be refreshing if our selectors ceased to treat the England A tour as a pat-on-the-back holiday, awarded to worthy county players who will never reach Test standard.

When the first of the four England A parties was chosen in 1985, it was appropriately called a B team, since it was selected on the basis of Buggins's turn. Ever since, although to a diminishing degree, the England A party has largely consisted of solid but unexceptional county pros: which is why, after four of these tours, they have borne such a singular lack of fruit that the one product to have gone on to consistent performances at Test level is Mike Atherton.

This time the party should consist not of 25 to 27-year-olds set in their ways, but those in their early twenties who have a chance of making that final step to Test level. Such youngsters are not already so sunk into the rut of county cricket that they are unable to alter bad habits. They are not too old to learn a higher standard of cricket, played on hard overseas pitches, and to assimilate their experiences.

To this end it is essential that these young players should be given the best of coaching, not some old pro sitting in the corner of the dressing-room repeating the truisms of his day. On their tour of Australia, the A team will not have any 'Test' matches, so there will be no chance to try out their temperaments under pressure; it is their techniques which they should be working on, to make them fit for cricket overseas. The coaches - one of them Norman Gifford, the Sussex coach whose appointment has been announced - must video-tape, discuss, analyse in detail, and correct where necessary.

I would like to see a team led by Alan Fordham, with Nick Speak his vice-captain. The other batsmen would be Chris Adams, Alistair Brown and Mark Lathwell, who all have the highest stroke-playing ability; Martin Speight, who has also to keep wicket if he is to fulfil his value to England, and John Crawley as his stop-gap reserve.

Two left-arm bowlers to be encouraged and coached in swing bowling are Paul Taylor, if not chosen for India, and Simon Brown (Mark Ilott should be encouraged, too, but needs a winter to rest his back). Dominic Cork and Andy Caddick would learn from the experience, more so probably than Kevin Shine; and Adrian Dale could become an all-rounder at one-day international level if he works on moving the ball at medium-pace.

Shaun Udal should be one spinner. The other could be the wayward but talented Alex Barnett, or the steady Mark Davies, as left-arm spinner; or a second off-spinner in the even steadier James Boiling.