Cricket: Rebels make class distinction in the Gower struggle: Martin Johnson on the central theme of a meeting of disaffected MCC members at Lord's today

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ENGLAND'S cricket selectors will today require an extra layer of the rhinoceros skin that comes as standard issue with the job when a group of rebellious MCC members meets in the Long Room at Lord's to invite those who preside over the awarding of Test caps to award themselves a set of dunce's caps.

The issue is the England squad chosen to tour India and Sri Lanka this winter, and in particular, the non-selection of David Gower. The world's most famous private club might sometimes be regarded as a rest home for out-of-touch retired individuals, given to making pompous pontifications, but on this particular subject, they have become the standard-bearers for an indignant nation.

When the the disaffected MCC membership launched its protest campaign in October, its stated objective was to demand an extraordinary general meeting of the club's 17,500 members, calling for a vote of no-confidence in Ted Dexter and his co-selectors, and the reinstatement of Gower for the winter tour.

However, as this has as much chance of succeeding as the selectors announcing their real reason for discarding Gower (those who swallowed the 'too old' excuse are also believers in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy) the MCC petitioners will probably settle for blowing Lord Ted and Co a loud and public raspberry.

About two thirds of the 260 MCC petitioners will gather in the Long Room this afternoon to listen to an alternative proposal from their president, Dennis Silk, urging that the 'no-confidence' motion be scrapped in favour of a 'strongly worded' letter of formal protest. Silk, a barrister, has drafted the letter, and will ask for its approval today.

The protesters, led by Lord (formerly Sir Ian) Gilmour and the man responsible for canvassing the membership, Dennis Oliver, will probably accept the formal protest option, given that their only realistic ambition - causing maximum embarrassment to the England selectors - has now been achieved.

Gower himself left last week for Australia, where he is spending the first part of the winter commentating for Channel Nine on the Australia versus West Indies Test series, and he will be arriving in India shortly before the first Test in Delhi in January for further media duties with BSkyB and a national Sunday newspaper.

Oliver said yesterday that his original objectives were nothing less than the reinstatement of Gower, plus the inclusion of Jack Russell and Ian Salisbury, and the exclusion of the three pardoned South African tourists, Mike Gatting, John Emburey and Paul Jarvis.

'It remains to be seen whether we vote to press ahead with this,' Oliver said, 'or perhaps settle for the letter of protest instead. Whichever way it turns out, we would like to cause maximum embarrassment for the England selectors, and remind them that they are not as unaccountable as they appear to think they are.

'I have been extremely heartened by the response to our campaign, and the depth of feeling around the country over this extraordinary selection. I have had so many letters, ranging from one lady refusing to do the teas for her village team any more, to 130 students from Lancaster University signing a petition of protest to A C Smith, the Test and County Cricket Board's chief executive. Typically, when we passed this on, Smith's only comment was along the lines of 'We always get this type of thing after the selection of a touring party'.

'I have had letters from people who regularly travel abroad to watch England's winter matches, but who have cancelled their arrangements this time, and the comment from one of our members that 'Our selection process has been hijacked by a load of lance-corporals' is reflective of the depth of feeling on this issue.'

Gower will go to India as a commentator for BSkyB, who are to cover the series - the first time a tour to the sub-continent has been broadcast live. BSkyB will show all three Test matches and the six one-day international matches.

Test match reports, page 29

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