Cricket: Tufnell drops out of the Test reckoning: Middlesex rest troubled spinner as Illingworth prepares to field balanced one-day side with new faces against New Zealand

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The Independent Online
MIDDLESEX yesterday took the unusual step of sending Phil Tufnell on unpaid leave to allow the troubled left-arm spinner time to resolve his personal problems. The move effectively robs England of one of their key players for the Test series with New Zealand and, given the player's propensity to attract controversy, raises fears about his long-term future, writes Glenn Moore.

Tufnell, 27, has been remanded on bail until 23 June when he will face charges for alleged assault and motoring offences. By then, England will have completed two of the three Tests against New Zealand and will be savouring the visit of a South African side notoriously vulnerable to high-class spin.

Tufnell is unlikely to be ready for a quick England return, and Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, admitted: 'This is a blow - Tufnell did a good job for Mike Atherton in the final two Tests in the West Indies yet this makes it almost impossible for us to pick him. He's got to sort himself out - he can't carry on like this.'

The England manager, Keith Fletcher, added: 'This reduces our options for the Tests because, arguably, he is among our top four bowlers. But Middlesex must feel he needs time off and if he is not playing county cricket we won't be able to pick him for England.'

Illingworth was quick to see a positive side. 'His demise is another person's opportunity - that's the way I see it. We will have to have a good look now at spinners like Richard Stemp, Richard Illingworth and Ian Salisbury. Tufnell's hardly been bowling people out left, right and centre, has he?'

Since Tufnell has played only once this season, in a Benson and Hedges tie on 26 April when he took three wickets, the last criticism seems a bit harsh. His performance in that game suggested he is capable of putting his personal problems aside when he plays.

Yesterday's development was revealed by the Middlesex secretary, Joe Hardstaff, who said: 'Middlesex have decided to give Phil Tufnell time off for a few weeks to sort out his personal affairs away from the pressure of first-class cricket. At the moment, Philip is not in the right frame of mind to give of his best on the cricket field.'

After the statement, the county captain, Mike Gatting, expressed faith in Tufnell's ability to revive his career. Illingworth, who wants to make spin bowling a cornerstone of his new England, will hope that faith is justified.

(Photograph omitted)