Cricket: When boldness was the only option left: Gambling on youth was not what England's cricket selectors were known for - until last week. Simon Hughes reports

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The Independent Online
THE ANNOUNCEMENT of the England squad for the summer's one-day internationals is not always a reliable indicator of selectorial direction for the subsequent Test matches. On this occasion, it probably is. Ted Dexter and his committee have heeded the clamour for an injection of youthful vitality to bolster the nucleus of trusty veterans, though they lapsed slightly with the inclusion of Derek Pringle and Richard Illingworth. Mark Ilott and Ian Salisbury might have been given a chance instead.

In the main they got it right, though. Instead of ignoring an outstanding individual until he seems to have subsided into a crisis of no-confidence, the selectors have taken the bold approach and gone for three newcomers under 24, two in only their second full season of first-class cricket.

Many competent players, prosperous in limited-overs internationals, have come unstuck in the Test arena. Neil Fairbrother and Dermot Reeve, for example. They were picked to do a job over a span of 55 overs, but were rarely part of the equation in the five- day game.

It was a blind alley really, the same one up which captains tend to disappear whenever they promote a tail-end hitter to No 4 in a frantic run chase. Quality performers will be successful in any format - six-a-side, 11-a-side, one-day or five-day, provided they are given an opportunity. Not only that, but the more often real talent is exposed to the trials and tribulations of international competition, the better it will become as a result. Clearly Andrew Caddick, Mark Lathwell and Graham Thorpe have been chosen to groom them for the burdens of pressure and expectation commensurate with being an England cricketer. What it boils down to is a test of bottle, the principle commodity that separates the men from the boys.

So unless Caddick's radar inexplicably goes on the blink, he can be inked in for the Test series. For him, one-day internationals are a relatively gentle introduction to the lions' den since he only has to get through 11 overs and the odds in such matches are always stacked against the bowler. No one remembers anything except big hits and brilliant catches.

Lathwell's prospects are less clear. At some stage during the three-match series he should go in first otherwise there is not much point him being there - his skill is hitting good length balls for four, not making room to slash leg- stump yorkers past cover. If he makes at least one substantial score he must also be in line for the first Test. Thorpe deserves his chance through sheer weight of runs, most of them achieved through deft placement rather than brute force.

All this is bad news for Mike Atherton, possessor of the country's best batting temperament. If either Lathwell or Thorpe are an overnight success, he could go to the back of the queue, which would be a foolish waste. Technically, Atherton is accomplished and no one in the game prepares more rigorously for an innings.

He scores at two an over without taking risks or hogging the strike on any surface against any bowling. Opening the batting, that equates to a sedate hundred in a limited-overs match, while creating scope for those with more aggressive instincts down the other end. He averages 37 for England in one-dayers (six more than Alec Stewart) and is in regal form. What he desperately needs is some indication from the hierarchy that they have faith in him - no England player who is unsure of his place in the scheme of things ever performs at his best.

Another pointer to the future was the omission of David Gower and Ian Botham from the Texaco squad. Deprived of the international stage neither will remain long in county cricket - Botham has already intimated that. There was a case for including him as a public relations exercise - his emergence from the pavilion whirling his bat like a giant lasso still excites the masses like nothing else - but 10 operations have made bowling a bit of a struggle. Gower still has hopes of a comeback and knows that the only way is to make runs on seaming puddings at Stockton. It is a bit like expecting Martin Offiah to excel on a quagmire, but ultimately this represents the yardstick of desire the management demands.

England's attack is a concern for everyone except the Australian batsmen. Our seam bowling resources look rather uniform - we may need the variety of a left armer (Ilott) or a swing bowler (Phil Newport) as the summer unfolds, while the Essex spin partnership of Peter Such and John Childs may be the best combination with Gooch still in charge. The Texaco series will also serve as a potted guide to the Australians' summer prospects. Their batting is sure to spark on essentially placid surfaces - look out for the robust driving of Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn's wide repertoire - and their fielding is more agile and aggressive than England's.

The bowling may be exposed, however. Craig McDermott has lost some zip since his tearaway days, they have yet to settle on a third paceman in addition to the recuperating Merv Hughes, and Shane Warne has already had a couple of serious pastings. As a sideshow to the main fare next week it should be fun watching Allan Border attempting to control his charges and his own temper in the field.