If the selectors get it right - or at least if their hunches prove successful - the quintet at present steadfastly refusing to demonstrate sufficiently persuasive form for automatic inclusion may well deserve to be known in years to come as the Dave Graveney Five. The composition of the senior touring party, however, is only the most ticklish of a multitude of options on which Graveney and his colleagues must decide.
They will also announce on Tuesday squads for the A tour of southern Africa, for a one-day tournament in Bangladesh which is being described as a mini-World Cup because all the senior nations are taking part, and for a Super-8 competition in Perth. Squads for the triangular one-day series in Australia in the new year and for the tournament in Sharjah in April will have to wait their turn.
From the range of selection possibilities on offer it will be an under- achieving county cricketer indeed who has to find alternative employment to pay the rent this winter. Those who attempt to claim benefit risk being told at the local job centre that there are plenty of vacancies for English cricketers abroad and if they are not equipped to fill them they should seriously consider re-training.
The Ashes tour party, with all its attendant soul-searching, will be at the head of the agenda. Almost all the batting places are taken. Michael Atherton, Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain will, obviously, as the chairman has it, either join or replace those who have been on duty at The Oval. Steve James will not be selected; the other five in the top six are all in the reckoning.
The greatest point of debate will concentrate on whether to take John Crawley, or Graeme Hick, or both. Dropping batsmen who have made centuries in their most recent Test match is a selectorial policy which departs from the audacious and borders on madness. In deliberating whether to take this step the selectors must balance the number of specialist batsmen they wish to take, whether Crawley might be used as a possible alternative opener (or, at a real push, spare wicketkeeper) and whether there are any other young batsmen around who have advanced enough to deserve a senior tour.
The answers, as even Graveney would admit, are not obvious. In a five- match series which contains only five other first-class matches, two of which are before the Tests begin, eight batsmen might be too many but if it is not it would be as well that they were all experienced enough to play in a Test at the crack of a colleague's index finger.
They will give time, rightly, to the idea of taking Nick Knight as middle- order batsman instead of an opener where his purported deficiences against the first new ball have been exposed. But he is a bold strokemaker and some fielder. As for a younger pretender, the selectors could spend some time trying to identify one but they had better be sure of his purpose as much as his name. And both seem unclear. Owais Shah, Steve Peters and Ed Smith have a question mark against them which is preceded by the sentence "where are their county runs?"
Ben Hollioake may well be sufficient by himself to fill the role of all- rounder cum young pretender. Having picked him and gone through the batsmen (and all this time the A tour is lurking an item or two further down the agenda) the selection panel will move on to the bowlers. The dream team of Darren Gough, Angus Fraser and Dominic Cork are, naturally, obvious and, although he has not played a Test match this season they appear to have gained another member in Alan Mullally.
There could easily be room for another seamer. The outstanding candidate and realistically the only posible Test bowler is Andrew Caddick. He achieves bounce and swing and is certainly fast enough. There appears to have grown up a movement against him, caused by a combination of an indifferent tour to the West Indies last winter when he misued the new ball and his attitude. Caddick may well be a player who needs perpetual encouragement but players, whether professional, need to be treated differently. If Team England cannot embrace him and his foibles as well as his talents it has perhaps not made the progress it perceives.
The spin will fall, unconvincingly sadly, on two from Robert Croft, Ian Salisbury, Ashley Giles and Phil Tufnell. At this stage of the meeting they might indulge in a spot of pin-sticking for light relief although they might also mention that Giles, maligned after his Test debut, was also the first, and for a long while, only England spinner to take a wicket this summer.
There has been talk of a reserve wicketkeeper again to give a rest to Alec Stewart. Paul Nixon has been repeatedly mentioned but his credentials appear neither less nor greater than those of Warren Hegg, Adrian Aymes or the veteran Steve Marsh. When South Africa, for instance, needed a new keeper urgently they went for untried youth in Mark Boucher. If England are bold and can truly identify their players for the future they will take the 20-year-old Chris Read of Nottinghamshire. True, if anything happened to Stewart it might be a worry but that would be the case whatever happened to Stewart.
And so to the A team. Adam Hollioake, Mark Alleyne, Matthew Maynard and Knight will be in line to lead it after which as many as 40 players will be mentioned. They can profitably look at Andrew Flintoff, Shah, Graeme Swann, Chris Adams, for age if not experience, Jason Lewry, a left armer, Alex Tudor, James Ormond and Robert Key. If they are not running out of paper by then, they might yet look at the summer's Under-19s scorecards for inspiration.
After that the Bangladesh party will come almost as light relief. The usual one-day suspects, and they will be thankful for once there are so many, will be rounded up in a hurry.
Little Ben faces a
tall order, page 9
STEPHEN BRENKLEY'S WINTER TOUR PARTIES
A J Stewart (Surrey, capt), N Hussain (Essex, vice-capt), M A Atherton (Lancashire), M A Butcher (Surrey), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex), G P Thorpe (Surrey), G A Hick (Worcestershire), J P Crawley (Lancashire), B C Hollioake (Surrey), D G Cork (Derbyshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), A R C Fraser (Middlesex), A D Mullally (Leicestershire), P A Nixon (Leicestershire), R B D Croft (Glamorgan), P C R Tufnell (Middlesex), A R Caddick (Somerset).
THE A TEAM
A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt), S P James (Glamorgan), D L Maddy (Leicestershire), B F Smith (Leicestershire), M D Loye (Northamptonshire), O A Shah (Middlesex), S D Peters (Essex), A Flintoff (Lancashire), C M Read (Nottinghamsire), J Ormond (Leicestershire), S J Harmison (Durham), C P Schofield (Lancashire), P J Franks (Nottinghamshire), D A Cosker (Glamorgan), G P Swann (Northamptonshire).
A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt), N V Knight (Warwickshire), A D Brown (Surrey), D L Maddy (Leicestershire), C J Adams (Sussex), N H Fair- brother (Lancashire), R C Irani (Essex), M A Ealham (Kent), A F Giles (Warwickshire), P J Martin (Lancashire), I D Austin (Lancashire), W K Hegg (Lancashire), D R Brown (War- wickshire), D W Headley (Kent), M V Fleming (Kent).