Cricket: Spoiled by choice

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The Independent Online
THE understandable desire of players for tours to become shorter and shorter is in some ways counterproductive to their own best interests.

When England tour they never seem nowadays to have more than two first- class matches before the Test series begins. This means that the captain and his fellow selectors have to make up their minds in advance about the likely make-up of the Test side. These players are then given every chance to find their form before the first Test; the others are discarded for the time being and some will never get back into the reckoning.

That superimposed inflexibility means that some cricketers are, therefore, more equal than others. Two who will have felt this most acutely in Australia are Alex Tudor and Peter Such, just as Mark Ramprakash did in the West Indies at the start of the year.

Tudor knew he was coming to Australia as part of a learning curve and will not have felt as privately aggrieved as Such, to whom it will soon have been made clear that he was less favoured as an off-spinner than Robert Croft. It has been greatly to their credit that they both stuck at it in the nets and have been rewarded.

With negligible practice in the middle, Tudor made an immediate and most impressive impact on the Perth Test while Such has contributed handsomely here in Adelaide. The selection of both was imaginative and a trifle unusual for England, who almost invariably stick with the safety first option.

But sadly and, I suppose, predictably, these same selectors let themselves and Tudor down with a thud. After taking five wickets in Perth, where he bowled with real pace and control, Tudor will have looked forward to the three remaining Tests and the chance they were going to give him to acclimatise to international cricket.

In the first innings he had made 18 not out, out of 112, and showed that he has it in him one day to become an all-rounder. Above all, though, he showed that he has a superb temperament, taking everything in his stride.

In the build-up to the Third Test the selectors must have convinced themselves that the dangers of unleashing Tudor on a flat pitch, where he might have been subjected to all sorts of indignities, far outweighed the possible advantages.

They have allowed themselves to forget what they had learned about his temperament in Perth and, which is even more important, they forgot that he had shaken up several of Australia's batsmen. In Adelaide, one or two might have been more apprehensive of him than he of them.

If the Australian selectors had discovered an equivalent of Tudor in the Perth Test Match, there is no way they would have dropped him for the next Test, no matter if it was being played in Adelaide or Timbuktu. Australia's cricketing philosophy, even allowing for bookmakers, would not have allowed it.

England's selectors, having taken one huge step forward, presumably had first to pinch themselves to believe it, and then took a similar step backwards, perhaps in fright at what they had already done. By all accounts, Tudor's temperament, which was so important on the field a fortnight ago, has enabled him to take this disappointment pretty well.

None the less, when he rejoins the side in Melbourne - I cannot believe he will not play there - he is bound to feel that he is again on trial and a bit of an outsider when he should have been thriving on a warm feeling induced by continuity and familiarity.

What a way to treat the most promising young cricketer for ages. Yet, strangely, the success they had in picking Tudor for Perth may have helped give the selectors the confidence to pick Such for Adelaide.

There is no harder trier in the game. In Adelaide Such had enlisted the thoughtful advice of Ashley Mallett, the old Australian off-spinner. Such's front foot was coming down in front of the stumps and his fingers were undercutting the ball. Thanks to Mallett, the front foot is now coming down in line with the back foot and the ball comes out of the top of the hand which makes him a much more awkward proposition. In any event Such has looked, so far in Australia, a much better bowler than Croft.

So the selectors took a big step forward in Perth, a big step backwards in Adelaide and another one forward. A fly on the wall at their meetings might well have been entertained, but it would have been curiously puzzled at the same time.

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