Cricket: Illingworth shuts door on Botham

Chairman of selectors lays down the law: A legend scorned, Atherton's captaincy questioned, conspiracy theory aired
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The Independent Online
Ian Botham's lingering hopes of having some influence over the England team this season disappeared yesterday on the resolute say-so of Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors. And among other typically forthright pronouncements, Illingworth made it clear that Mike Atherton's continuation as England captain was by no means a foregone conclusion.

Speaking for the first time since Thursday's announcement that David Graveney and Graham Gooch had been voted on to the selection panel, Illingworth unburdened himself of a number of grievances, criticising the way the counties had behaved during the election and accusing MJK Smith, the chairman of Warwickshire, of conducting a "personal crusade" against him. There was a point in recent weeks, Illingworth said, when he had thought seriously about resigning. He decided to carry on because "I'm a stubborn bugger deep down, I suppose".

Botham's failure to become a selector was a relief to Illingworth, but David Lloyd, the new England coach, was subsequently reported as saying he was keen to have him in the background as a motivator and all-round totem of gung-ho greatness. That, however, was not going to win the approval of Illingworth - the object of much of Botham's scorn down the years.

"We won't be seeing Ian this year," Illingworth said during the match between England A and the Rest at Chelmsford. "He might have a role in the future, but I think David must be seen to do the job himself now, and that's better without Ian there. I just feel Botham's been put in a position which hasn't done him any good. He was good at motivating himself, but we don't know how well he motivates other people. He didn't do it great when he was captain."

Expressing his dismay over what he called the "mischievous" way the counties had nominated candidates for selector - there were eight in the election altogether - Illingworth said he hoped the affair would lead the working party headed by David Acfield to recommend changes to the system.

"I've been alarmed at a lot of what I've heard in the last month," Illingworth said. "I think a lot of people haven't shown responsibility to the game. Some of the chairmen have been thinking up names and saying them willy nilly." Illingworth singled out Smith for particular criticism, saying it was a campaign in which Graveney had got caught up.

Although Illingworth said he hoped issues would not be made out of his remarks, it was as controversial a performance as even he has given in his two turbulent years in charge of English cricket, the overall message being that the boss was still the boss.

On the matter of the England captaincy for this summer's series against India and Pakistan, Illingworth said: "It's not cut and dried. I need to speak to Dennis Silk [chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board]. At the moment there isn't an England captain." A very different note was being struck at the end of the World Cup when Illingworth indicated that he could not imagine being chairman of selectors without Atherton as captain.

Illingworth also confirmed that he retained the power of veto in any selectorial decision, and that, irrespective of the outcome of the election, Brian Bolus - a failed candidate, but preferred by Illingworth - could yet be involved in assessing players unofficially, perhaps at county matches during Tests. Gooch, meanwhile, will have to restrict his selection work to matches in which he is playing for Essex - at least until the selectors meet on 18 May to decide the party for the one-day series against India.

Lloyd, Graveney and Gooch were with Illingworth to watch a match which gave an early opportunity for some leading Test aspirants to make an impression, and the day very much belonged to an England A team of whom 10 had been on the successful tour of Pakistan in the winter.

The regularity with which the Rest's wickets fell was blamed by Illingworth on a relaid pitch in which there was too much green. But that perhaps gave insufficient credit to the only three bowlers used, Tim Munton, Ed Giddins and Ronnie Irani.

In the light of what Illingworth had to say about Atherton, the selection of Martyn Moxon, the 36-year-old Yorkshire captain, began to make some sense. Moxon, however, was not off the mark when he was turned round by a ball from Munton. John Crawley offered a tame catch to short leg, Jason Gallian fell to a needless flick down the leg side, and Mark Ramprakash, who tried to be positive, got one that Giddins dug in and managed to drop the ball off the splice of the bat on to the stumps. Thorpe's presence was a definite mystery. His streaky 32 was really neither here nor there - much as he was himself when he went down the wicket to Munton and checked a catch to Nasser Hussain at extra cover. That shot effectively ended any hopes the Rest had of rectifying things.

With four for 41 off 20 overs, Munton was his usual model of control, but it was the less well established Giddins, who took three for 52, who perhaps did most to advance his cause. Sussex's leading wicket-taker last season, he makes a lengthy, unthreatening approach to the wicket but at times generated considerable pace.

England A made a better fist of batting than the Rest had, at least after Nick Knight had gone to the first ball of the innings, well caught at slip by Mike Watkinson. Hussain and Jason Pooley both looked in control and should have stayed longer, and Irani made it a good day personally by adding an unbeaten 26 to his three wickets.