Cricket: Warhorses in harness: Old campaigners get call for another tour of duty as England seek to ignite Ashes campaign. Derek Pringle reports

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THE tour party bound for Australia was, bar one or two surprises, what we expected. Nothing radical here, just plain common denominators and sense. If picking an Ashes touring team in the past has required a supply of gin and tonics before making the not-so-careful selections with sharp pin and star chart, then the presence of Ray Illingworth and Michael Atherton would have brought an attitude to selection that was more down-to- earth than pie-in-the-sky.

That is not to say that they agree with one another, far from it. All summer there has been speculation over which selections were whose, but while there has been much conjecture over what Atherton may have had in his pocket, when it came to the crunch, it was generally reckoned that Illingworth had the England captain tucked away, vying for space with the Yorkshireman's handkerchief.

Both are stubborn men, and the other selectors would have probably had to use their votes over dinner last Thursday, in order to settle the odd choice where differences lay. In the end, only Mike Gatting and Martin McCague, of the 16 going, would have warranted enough argument for the main course to have got cold. Beyond that, it is unlikely any extra coffee was needed to thrash things out into the wee hours.

Even so, of the cases warranting discussion, Gatting, after another fine county season with the bat, was widely expected to go anyway. On Championship figures alone, he is up there at the top, though question marks must remain over his recent form at Test level. His return to the international stage in India two years ago was disappointing, and he was dropped after only two of last year's Ashes Tests, undone by the spin he is said to play so well.

Perhaps, like Graham Gooch, the other senior citizen in what is otherwise a refreshingly young side, Gatting - as a long-standing county captain - is too used to ruling the roost. This may have a detrimental effect on the less experienced tourists - who are not used to his whingeing - as well as affecting the overall morale of the side which, in spite of the recent ructions surrounding their captain, has been excellent.

Unless Gatting - who will probably oust Crawley from the line-up at No 6 - scores plenty of runs, Atherton may find his presence something of a hindrance. When asked about the wisdom of taking both Gatting and Gooch, Illingworth replied: 'We feel we've got the right balance. There are five batsmen who can play for a lot of years to come as well as two oldies who are both good players of spin. In any case, we feel both are in the top two or three players in the country.'

This more or less acknowledges the fact that Shane Warne is England's chief threat and will require two of their most grizzled warhorses to combat it. This is fine in theory, and may yet work well in practice, but if Warne starts dropping it on a sixpence in the rough outside leg-stump, they may well rue the absence of another attacking left-hander to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Without Angus Fraser in the team, Australia may have no such problem. By dropping Fraser, the selectors have removed the last surviving vestige of England's pace attack in the West Indies last winter. Fraser may be tired, but his relentless line and length is the quality that has allowed bowlers such as South Africa's Craig Matthews and Fanie de Villiers to sabotage the Aussies' batting line-up.

To replace him with Martin McCague, who has rarely been fully fit since a stress fracture sidelined him a year ago, seems a risky ploy, even though recent reports testify to his good health. When it is considered in addition that neither Craig White nor Darren Gough has ever experienced anything like the workload or the travelling about to be rudely dumped on them, and that Phillip DeFreitas has been known to go off the boil on tours before, it leaves only Philip Tufnell and Devon Malcolm - not renowned for their steadfastness - to pick up the pieces should things go awry.

By selecting McCague, another Australian-reared player with direct English lineage, to join Craig White, already of that ilk, Illingworth is clearly working on a variation of the principle that it takes a thief to catch a thief. Both McCague's and White's allegiance to the flag of St George will do little to keep Paul Keating's Republicans off their backs.

In the event that White fails to recover from his shin splints, then Dominic Cork - already on the A tour to India that departs after Christmas - will take his place. The only real surprise in either squad is the dearth of Warwickshire players. Only Keith Piper from the county who have dominated all four domestic competitions this summer has made it. He goes as wicketkeeper of the A team, which surely should have either Roger Twose or Dominic Ostler in its number.

By taking three frontline spinners in Ian Salisbury, Richard Stemp and Mim Patel, plus the spinning all-rounder Paul Weekes, they are going well prepared, something the full England side failed to do there in 1993. Few players enjoy touring India, but if only a handful of them can improve their game, then the value of having A tours as a feeder to the main side may start to bear fruit. At present, since regular tours began five years ago, only Atherton, Thorpe and Rhodes have come through to be regulars. This represents a pretty poor return on the investment.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE TOURING PARTIES ----------------------------------------------------------------- ENGLAND SQUAD (Tour to Australia) Age Caps M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt) . . . . . . . . . . 26. . . .40 A J Stewart (Surrey, vice-capt) . . . . . . . . . . 31. . . .43 G A Gooch (Essex) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41. . . 113 G A Hick (Worcestershire) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28. . . .29 G P Thorpe (Surrey) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 . . . 10 J P Crawley (Lancashire) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22 . . . .3 M W Gatting (Middlesex) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37. . . .74 C White (Yorkshire) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24. . . . 4 S J Rhodes (Worcestershire) . . . . . . . . . . . . 30. . . . 6 P A J DeFreitas (Derbyshire) . . . . . . . . . . . .28 . . . 39 D Gough (Yorkshire) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23. . . . 4 S D Udal (Hampshire) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25 . . . .0 P C R Tufnell (Middlesex) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28. . . .18 J D Benjamin (Surrey) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33. . . . 1 M J McCague (Kent) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25 . . . .2 D E Malcolm (Derbyshire) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31 . . . 28 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Tour Manager: M J K Smith. Team Manager: K W R Fletcher. -----------------------------------------------------------------

TEST SERIES ITINERARY: 25-29 Nov: First Test v Australia (Brisbane). 24-29 Dec: Second Test v Australia (Melbourne). 1-5 Jan: Third Test v Australia (Sydney). 26-30: Fourth Test v Australia (Adelaide). 3-7 Feb: Fifth Test v Australia (Perth).

ENGLAND A SQUAD (to tour India): A P Wells (Sussex, capt), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex, vice-capt), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), J E R Gallian (Lancashire), N V Knight (Essex), D G Cork (Derbyshire), P A Nixon (Leicestershire), K J Piper (Warwickshire), I D K Salisbury (Sussex), P N Weekes (Middlesex), R D Stemp (Yorkshire), M C Ilott (Essex), R L Johnson (Middlesex), M M Patel (Kent), G Chapple (Lancashire). D L Hemp (Glamorgan). Tour Manager: J R T Barclay. Team Manager: P A Neale.

TEST ITINERARY: 23-27 Jan: First Unofficial Test Match v India A. 5-9 Feb: Second Unofficial Test Match v India A. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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