Cricket: Strong case for blend ambition

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THERE IS undoubtedly a mood for change in the air. The extent to which the selectors go along with this will be known this morning. After Old Trafford, just about the whole England side will be looking nervously at the Teletext service wondering if their place is intact. I shall be among them.

It is understandable that this should be so. England might have had the worst of the pitches this summer, especially at Lord's and Manchester, but we have been disappointing. Even so, wholesale changes will be difficult to assimilate. At Middlesex we are perhaps still getting over the loss of so many senior players in three or four seasons. Transition takes time.

In deciding on the players that they may include, the selectors will be looking for three main factors. Call them the three t's if you like: temperament, talent, technique. Having identified the cricketers that have those qualities they have to look to give them a run in the team. The names have been freely canvassed this week, not least Darren Maddy of Leicestershire and Michael Vaughan of Yorkshire.

Figures and averages help. Last year, for instance, John Crawley scored so heavily in the Championship that he virtually demanded a recall. Maybe they will be looking at batsmen between 21 and 25. There are many about, but no one is providing overwhelming statistical evidence.

The trick, I suppose, is to blend new players with experienced ones all the time so that one replaces the other at intervals. It is, as we know, easier said than done. The new guys who come in must be helped along, be made to feel part of the team ethic. I have played the last 17 Test matches in succession for England and became happy in my mind about it for the first time. This was thanks to people like David Lloyd, John Emburey, Graham Gooch and Bob Cottam, who backed me and gave me confidence. That is what new players need.

The more relaxed a player is, not in his approach but in being part of the side, the more likely he is to make an impact. Whoever is selected, whoever the new boys are, that will be important. It will help them to play their normal attacking game, to settle down, to cope with the low points which are inevitable.

Let us not forget amid the doom and gloom that England go to The Oval with the series still at 1-1. We might have been lucky to leave Old Trafford with the draw but we accepted it gratefully.

I suppose it has been espec-ially disappointing because of our failure to progress far in the World Cup this summer. The idea was that we would beat New Zealand and beat them well, but they have a good team who have been around for a while now.

They have grown into a good unit who play competitive cricket and they have made the most of the conditions. But we should have been favourites, no doubt about that, and I can understand people wanting change. However, if we win at The Oval the fact is we will have won the series. While that will not entirely mask the disappointment it will go some way to redressing the balance.

Not all was hopeless at Manchester. England owed a debt to Dean Headley, who was injured on the third day but bowled through it because he did not want to let the side down. He may have aggravated matters in doing so but it showed spirit. Andrew Caddick, too, kept wheeling away on a pitch getting flatter. It was the sort of stuff which made the team feel better.

We have to remain positive at The Oval, as I have said all along, believe in our natural strengths and where they can take us. Batsmen can have bad trots, of course. I can remember Gooch, a great player, going through a torrid time against Terry Alderman, the Australian seam bowler. You have to stay in a frame of mind which helps to ensure that the corner will be turned.

Picking people for England is hard, as Gooch pointed out to me when we had a chat in Manchester. There isn't that much to go on at present. They might have to back their instincts. I will not be alone in listening to the team with interest today.