Cricket: Illingworth expects

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The Independent Online
SOME THINGS never change. The sun shone here yesterday, the flag of St George flew proudly in celebration of his feast day, Shakespeare's birthday or the renaissance of English cricket - take your pick - and the umpires came and went, making inspections at advertised intervals. But there was no cricket before 5pm.

What has changed, as few could have failed to notice, is the man in the hot seat of English cricket. So, one feels, has the attitude towards selection for England. Ray Illingworth is no easy rider in the Ted Dexter mould. Where Dexter was something of a visionary who became lost in a wilderness of his own making, Illingworth, the new chairman of selectors, is concentrating on the matter in hand: picking a team who will restore confidence in English cricket. It is not an easy task, and he has no illusions about it.

At Lord's yesterday, he and his fellow selectors met up with the England team manager, Keith Fletcher, for the first time since their appointment. And despite acknowledging that England had come back well in recent weeks in the West Indies, Illingworth again stressed the definite need for an improvement in standards.

A balanced attack, containing three seamers and two spinners, is a familiar theme of his criticism in recent years, and he is hoping that groundsmen will not be frightened of preparing pitches that accommodate such selections. It should not matter if pitches take turn on the third day, he says. Better to have that if spin bowlers are to be encouraged into thinking they have a role in Test cricket again.

Illingworth also advocates a two-divisional County Championship as a means of improving standards. 'I was in favour of it 20 years ago,' he said. And he will be pushing for it in those committees which determine the future structure of the domestic game.

The new chairman envisages no conflict of interest between Fletcher and himself, and sees both as vital advisers to the captain, Michael Atherton. He is insistent, too, that he and his fellow selectors will do a professional job. They intend seeing a lot of cricket, and if Illingworth himself is the yardstick, they will be looking for players of character. The sort of player typified in this match, perhaps, by the England A wicketkeeper, Steve Rhodes - someone with the ability

to make the grade in Test

cricket and who will also make a contribution to the team effort.

Whoever takes the field, though, there is little doubt that Illingworth's contribution will be just as significant.