Cricket: Udal left to ponder his legacy: Scyld Berry on an off-spinner hitherto spurned by England but still hoping to book a berth on the A tour of Australia

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ALREADY the omens for England's winter tour are inpropitious. According to a new book, The Years of Indecision, by Neville Scott and Northamptonshire's Nick Cook, England have done better without 'rebels' over the last decade than with them. Whenever English players have been banned for going to South Africa, their exclusion seems to have resulted in a higher morale and better performance from the Test side.

In India and Sri Lanka, where England go this winter, that intangible factor which is morale is more influential still. When 16 cricketers feel that millions of people are against them, from Indian umpires to Indian airlines, their collective response is critical: they will either give in and moan, like Keith Fletcher's side in 1981-82, or develop greater unity and win, like David Gower's team in 1984-85.

As if India does not have enough inequalities in its society, England will be taking two of their own to jeopardise morale. One is the division, already created, between those on senior contracts, or on lesser contracts, or on none at all. Now that South Africa are back in the fold, there is little need for England's players to be given any winter contract beyond that for each tour, except when they have a winter off. If the occasional player is tempted to some one-day festival in Toronto or Hong Kong, good luck to him if he wants to risk injury.

The second inequality, and potential cause of resentment, will lie in the presence of reprieved 'rebels'. Nothing can be held against Mike Gatting and John Emburey personally, for it is too much to expect anyone to turn down the offer to have his cake and eat it. However, one would have expected - no, merely hoped - that the TCCB would have enforced a ban of its own on the 'rebels' until next April. Those who wanted to turn their backs on English cricket will now have the best of both worlds - South African rand and their England place - and that knowledge will surely cause resentment at times of stress this winter.

An off-spinner who would have had a chance of touring India this winter, but for the reprieve that John Emburey will undoubtedly be granted, is Shaun Udal. While Peter Such, of Essex, qua off-spinner, is more of a match-winner at the moment, Udal, aged 23, must have more of an international future, for being more of an all- round cricketer. In fact, if Ray Illingworth were in charge of selection, Udal would by now have an international past, since the Old Fox would have picked him for the Lord's Test, ahead of Ian Salisbury.

As some compensation, Udal should be able to look forward to a tour of Australia with England A, as reward for his first full season with Hampshire. On Thursday evening, in the last moments of first-class cricket at Dean Park in Bournemouth, he became the third bowler this season to reach 100 wickets in the four competitions, behind Courtney Walsh and Emburey. Udal had taken 51 in Championship games, 29 in the Sunday League (which set a new county record), and the rest in the B and H Cup, which Hampshire won, and the NatWest.

'Udal' is pronounced as in Boodles, which is definitely not his kind of club, or oodles of ability, which he does have, some of it inherited. His grandfather, Geoffrey, was a fast bowler who generated more of a reputation than one appearance for Middlesex and two for Leicestershire might suggest: Shaun has a newspaper cutting from the early 1930s, headlined: 'Udal As Fast As Larwood'. His grandfather was fiercely competitive at other sports, however, and won three Blues in the services when he worked at Farnborough, where his grandson was born.

Robin Udal, Shaun's father, represented Surrey Colts and is now a pillar of Camberley CC. In 42 years - he currently runs the 3rd XI, which tops its league - he has recorded the Wilfred Rhodes- ish figures of 40,000 runs and 3,600 wickets. Shaun's mother, Mary, has done the teas at Camberley for over 20 years: she is Irish, and has done nothing to diminish her son's ginger hair or competitive streak. Shaun still represents Camberley whenever he has a Saturday off, alongside his younger brother Gary, a medium-pacer who lately took all 10 wickets in an innings.

Shaun was a medium-pacer, too, until he found himself captaining Hampshire under-15s against Somerset, whose tailenders were holding out for a draw. 'The umpire at square-leg, who was on 'our' side, suggested I should try off-breaks, and I took two wickets in my first over.' He swears it was the first time he had ever bowled off-breaks, and that his action has not changed since, except for one modification. Udal, who is now 6ft 2in, had done most of his growing by then, and has not had to revise his action completely, like some teenage spinners do on shooting up and losing their loop.

The modification has been to stop putting his front foot so far over to the leg-side in delivery: according to the gently perceptive Hampshire coach, Tim Tremlett, Udal, when tired or under pressure, can revert to that habit which makes him drop his arm. His armoury includes an outswinger as vestige of his medium-pacer days; the standard off-break, which can dip nicely when not delivered in quicker, one-day mode; and what he calls a top-spinner, under-cut so that it skids through. He is working on a Fred Titmus 'floater'.

Udal's achievement this season has been the more remarkable for his usually being the only spinner in his side. The biggest task for a spinner in county cricket is to work out the exact pace to bowl on each pitch, and he has had no seasoned fellow-spinner to guide him.

Temperament is vital, too, and Udal has impressed in both his Lord's finals. Last season, when so troubled by a hernia that he could not play any three or four-day games, he won a NatWest Trophy medal. This season it was the B and H Cup, when he had to hold his nerve at a testing time. 'Kent had blocked our seamers and were obviously going to take it out on me. Mark Nicholas just told me to relax, and to take wickets as well as bowling maidens. That's why we've been so successful in one-day cricket, I think: we try to bowl sides out.'

It would be interesting to see a young English off-spinner coping with Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev during the 'slog overs' in a one-day international in Ahmedabad or Cuttack. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen now.

(Photograph omitted)

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