Cricket: Ramprakash awaits verdict on restoration

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLAND selectors sit down over the luncheon table today to pick a team for their first encounter with Australia, and if the meal takes the same shape as the international season, they will start with the cigars and finish with a bread roll.

The Texaco Trophy series is, as usual, placed at the start of the season, when deeds of derring-do clutter up the issue for the more important trench warfare ahead. The one-day internationals, the first of which is at Old Trafford next Wednesday, would be no less high profile as an end-of-term fireworks display, and the early pre- occupation with one-day cricket means the England captain will have played in only two Championship games before the first Test match.

However, at least the three one- dayers occupy their own separate compartment, which in theory means that the selectors ought to be less confused than they were the last time they sat down together in September. On that occasion, they picked rather a decent one-day squad, which would have been a good deal more perspicacious had they not appeared to have forgotten that there were also four Test matches on the winter agenda.

In the event, not only were England whitewashed in the Tests, they failed to win either one-day series. An inquest into the former produced the startling revelation that it was more a sartorial disaster than a cricketing one, and that a swift transformation from Goochie's men to Gucci's men should be more than enough to see off the Aussies this summer.

Privately, though, the post mortem on the one-day performances led the team manager, Keith Fletcher, to the conclusion that it was not so much the length of beard that let England down, as the sort of fielding that would only have been barely tolerable in W G's day. Ergo, when England's 13-man squad is announced tomorrow, the ability to save 15 runs in the field will have been a bigger qualifying factor than the ability to slog 15 at the end of the innings.

Regular employment of the razor being a lesser case for career advancement in the context of close shaves with authority, Mark Ramprakash was ignored for the India-Sri Lanka tour despite more impressive credentials against spin than one or two of those selected, but his brilliant fielding suggests that he will have found his way back into an England squad by lunchtime tomorrow. Likewise, Nasser Hussain must come into the frame, as does another class fielder, Surrey's Graham Thorpe.

All of these qualify for a likely vacancy down the order at No 5 or No 6, given that Mike Gatting last week finished runner-up in an altercation with a dressing-room door, although he may not have been considered in any case given the accent on agility.

The selectors could choose from any amount of batsmen not selected for India (Ramprakash, Hussain, Thorpe, Lamb, Lathwell, Gower, Maynard, Brown, Fordham, and Broad, to name a few) but there is no such glut when it comes to bowlers. Angus Fraser and Neil Foster are not fit enough for consideration, and only Paul Jarvis and Chris Lewis could be pencilled in straight away with any degree of confidence.

However, with both batting and bowling, the selectors would be well advised not to inject too much fresh blood for a competition that neither allows any leeway for L plates, nor is important enough to risk interference with either confidence or technique. Keep the likes of Lathwell, Caddick, and Ilott pure and innocent for the moment, and stick to the older lags.

This, naturally enough, brings us round to Ian Botham. The ageing warhorse has made his own booking for the knacker's yard in September, but still has the knack of getting people out, and would certainly be in my squad for these three matches. However, when Lord Ted was canvassed about his chances on the radio a week ago, half the audience of Radio 5 scuttled off to see their GPs about acquiring a hearing aid. Botham himself has been making his customary bullish noises, but I think we can take it that Dexter will be cocking another deaf 'un.

My 13 would be: Gooch, Stewart, Smith, Hick, Fairbrother, Ramprakash, Lamb, Lewis, Botham, DeFreitas, Reeve, Illingworth, Jarvis.

TEXACO TROPHY ONE DAY SERIES: England v Australia: Wednesday 19 May: Old Trafford; Friday 21 May: Edgbaston; Sunday 23 May: Lord's.