Cricket: Gower lost in selectors' fantasy land

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S cricket selectors, by the very nature of the job, have to be thick-skinned, but as long as they continue to dress up their decisions with the kind of nonsense that accompanied their winter tour announcements they will continue to attract the well-deserved ridicule that came their way on Monday.

The omissions of David Gower and Jack Russell from the senior tour to India were eyebrow-raising in themselves, but the excuses that accompanied them reduced the press gallery to goggle-eyed astonishment. A schoolboy attempting to explain that he had not handed in his homework because it had been eaten by a Martian would have been more plausible.

Take Gower. Some of us had been labouring under the misapprehension that the selectors had convened last Friday to pick a side to win a Test series in India. How naive of us. We now know, as we should have done all along, that their main priority was to make sure that three experienced batsmen, at some mythical date some time before the end of the century, could not all decide to retire on the same day.

Did the selectors, perhaps, wake up on Friday morning with the ghastly apparition of Gower, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting all shuffling down the aisle towards Keith Fletcher's seat as the plane landed at Delhi, saying: 'Sorry, we've been having a chat during the flight, and we think it's about time we called it a day. We'll be flying home tomorrow.'

This is one of the most fantastic excuses ever promoted for dropping someone, and makes you wonder whether most of their five- hour meeting was spent dreaming one up. 'Er, what can we say? I've got it. Gower doesn't like curries? Maybe not. We can't take all of them because the scoreboard at Madras has only got two Gs on it? Um, don't like that one. Three Gs would confuse the scorers? Nah, they wouldn't swallow that one.'

As for Jack Russell, there is at least a smidgeon of support for their policy of picking only batsmen-wicketkeepers as opposed to specialists, but did they seriously believe, as they claimed, that Russell would know just how highly they thought of him by his appointment as A-team vice-captain?

The concept of Russell as second in command, and thence as captain if Martyn Moxon got injured as he did last winter, is more than a little peculiar to those who know Russell's likeable but introverted nature. Like many wicketkeepers, he is mildly eccentric, obsessive about his own game and fitness, and more likely to be found in a quiet corner applying the finishing strokes to his next painting than whipping up tactical battle plans in the dressing-room.

Had Russell not been selected at all, as would surely have been the case had he not been made vice-captain, it would have cost the Test and County Cricket Board pounds 20,000 under the winter retainer contract that they offered to several players in mid-summer. There is no other conceivable explanation, for example, for Devon Malcolm touring the West Indies with the A squad last winter but for his being in possession of one of Ted Dexter's contracts.

The A team also reflects the selectors' increasing attraction for shirehorses ahead of thoroughbreds. Just as a list of senior players containing a Reeve but not a Gower is enough to make you weep, then so is the omission from the A squad of an exciting opening batsman like Alan Fordham for the worthy, but limited, Tony Middleton calculated to make you wonder.

In fairness to the selectors, there were a bewildering number of names to pick from, and they have come up with several enterprising choices. However, Kent (Trevor Ward, Matthew Fleming, Martin McCague and Steve Marsh) have not had a representative sniff, while Glamorgan (Hugh Morris, Colin Metson, Adrian Dale and Robert Croft) will not be dissuaded from their long-standing conviction that England selectors would have to look up Wales on a map.