Cricket: Rebellion quashed by MCC: Lord's members send a message of support to the selectors while the chosen prepare to be tested in India

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ENGLAND'S selectors may have been described as inept, incompetent and stark staring mad, but they nevertheless won the support of MCC's members at a fraught special general meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, last night.

Yet their critics might claim a moral victory. In the hall 715 voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in the selectors and 412 against but the proxy vote saved the committee's bacon, 6,135 against, 4,600 for. As MCC secretary John Stephenson said afterwards: 'The closeness of the vote means that the committee will have to do some very serious thinking on the opinions expressed by members tonight.'

The world's most prestigious cricket club wanted to send a much stronger message of support to Keith Fletcher and Graham Gooch, team manager and captain of the tour in India, and to the selectors under fire. It was clear from the atmosphere in the hall, however, that many members felt a distinct unease about selections they believe put one-day cricket ahead of Test matches, although, as was pointed out, the selectors were only following their brief.

The relative narrowness of the vote surprised all. Stephenson added that the committee might have to improve their communications and their liaison with the TCCB.

Some 180 MCC members had requested the meeting, costing the club pounds 25,000, to propose a vote of no confidence, the principal complaints being the omission of David Gower and Jack Russell from the England tour of India and the inclusion of the former South African rebels John Emburey, Mike Gatting and Paul Jarvis. For almost three hours under the glory of a white, blue and gold stucco ceiling, dwarfed by the giant pipes of the organ, lawyers, headmasters, accountants, even a Field Marshal, 2,000 of them in all, argued over an issue upon which MCC now has no more influence than one vote in 20.

The dissident speakers took the floor of the hall, their speeches the more lucid and wittier. Dennis Oliver, the London financier who began the revolt, was caustic: 'John Emburey is on tour because he is a friend of Graham Gooch. David Gower is not because he isn't' He added: 'Now, in the land of great wicketkeepers, we have batsmen acting as long stops. The selectors are inert, or inept or incompetent or all three and have made a mockery of their responsibilities.' Later, though, he conceded defeat graciously. 'As far as I'm concerned that's the end of it, but I've no regrets.'

In reply Hubert Doggart, for the committee, pointed out there had been rows before, notably in 1928 when Frank Woolley, after 3,000 runs and 60 wickets, was omitted from a tour of Australia in which England won the Test series 4-1. The selectors, said Doggart, have been thorough, conscientious and successful - England won 16 and lost 6 of their 26 fixtures in 1992.

'Can you believe that Gower was omitted on cricketing grounds?' Lord Bonham-Carter asked. 'If he was then the selectors clearly are stark staring mad.' He added: 'If his reluctance to do press-ups and run three miles a day is held against him then his impeccable behaviour over South Africa when he twice rejected six-figure sums must be taken into account.'

Field Marshal Lord Bramall countered: 'I am saddened that this motion makes an unworthy division between gentlemen and players, between the amateur and professional approach.' He praised Gooch, adding: 'What commander has not the right to say who he wants to take with him into the fray?'

Lord Mountgarret backed the committee, Anthony Bradbury, QC, another leading Yorkshireman, was unhappy with the system while Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer, insisted: 'We have the right to protest and the right to choose our channel.'

Donald Rich, chairman of Gower's county, Hampshire, said he too was appalled but added: 'We have to respect the integrity of the selectors and I object to the slur on John Emburey. I do not believe that Gooch would choose him purely for friendship. I am sure the TCCB will take all these opinions into account when selection is next considered.'

Other speakers suggested that the underlying issue was the importance given to one-day internationals on the Indian tour. Brian Bolus, a former England player, insisted that England had the best possible squad for this particular tour. Lord Gilmour pointed out that no one in the meeting had found one good reason for Gower's exclusion and therefore there could not be one. Lord Griffiths, winding up, said the meeting had embarrassed Gower and that there were much more serious concerns in cricket than the selection for one tour.

(Photograph omitted)

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