Cricket: White rose in bloom for England in the first Test: Illingworth's influence as new chairman of selectors is apparent with Yorkshiremen to the fore in the squad to face New Zealand

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The Independent Online
OLD traditions die hard, which is presumably why England's squad for the first Test against New Zealand starting at Trent Bridge on Thursday was announced yesterday from one of the Test and County Cricket Board's minor branch offices at Lord's, rather than the new HQ at Headingley. Yorkshire's former status as the nerve centre of English cricket is being lovingly restored and when the Board's forensic scientists take a break from examining scuffed-up cricket balls, they might not find many of Michael Atherton's fingerprints after dusting down the team sheet.

Craig White and Richard Stemp, who are only just household names in their own houses, and an ex-patriot Yorkshireman in the wicketkeeper Steven Rhodes, are all uncapped inclusions in a 13 containing - true to the new chairman's post-election blueprint - only five specialist batsmen and only five survivors from April's Test-winning team in Barbados.

When it comes to fence-sitting, Raymond Illingworth's bottom has rarely been riddled with splinters and one thing is already crystal clear. If the show does come off the road, no one will be in any doubt about whose neck should be slipped into the noose.

Previously, identifying precisely who to string up has not been straightforward as no chairman has hitherto had anything like Illingworth's degree of influence. Ted Dexter had the profile, but in terms of direct input might just as well have been living on Venus, whatever Peter May was thinking was hidden behind long diatribes of waffle, while Alec Bedser thought there was not much wrong with English cricket that a return to national service or fast bowlers with broad backsides would not cure.

Illingworth, though, has always been a man of unshakeable opinions and convictions and is not the type to rule by concession or quid pro quo. White and Stemp are his selections and if the captain's input has been dramatically reduced, it is difficult to see Keith Fletcher's influence on this squad as much above the barely discernable.

It was Fletcher who went in to bat for Graham Thorpe in the West Indies and, just when people were beginning to think it would be better if Fletcher had gone in to bat instead of him, Thorpe came good. However, he has no place in the squad and has now slipped below Lancashire's John Crawley in the pecking order.

Crawley's 281 not out made him a serious candidate for this Test and his name occupied a large chunk of the two-hour meeting. In the end, however, the decision to wait a while on Crawley might have come down to Illingworth not yet having identified which one of Graeme Hick and Robin Smith is on a shorter-term lease in terms of producing the goods.

With no decision to be made on which batsman to leave out here, and White and Rhodes certain to occupy the Nos 6 and 7 positions, England will effectively be perming five from seven bowlers on Thursday morning, or, given that Angus Fraser is an automatic choice, four from six.

Illingworth, one of the best readers of a pitch there has been, has provisionally identified Trent Bridge as a 'slow seamer', which would mean that Stemp and Devon Malcolm are most likely to be trimmed from the final XI.

Stemp - who has taken 11 first-class wickets for Yorkshire this season, has never been on an A tour, and took only 31 at a cost of 34 runs apiece last summer - was chosen, according to Illingworth, in the general absence of talented spinners. White, he said, was 'the most promising all-rounder he had seen in a long time and could play as a third seamer'. However, White does not even get selected for Yorkshire on this basis and is currently more of a batting all- rounder than a bowling one.

Phillip DeFreitas has always been the reverse and although he is reported to have re-located his missing outswinger, invariably gets picked on the basis that he might one day get a few runs.

Remarkably, this is the 22nd separate occasion on which DeFreitas has been chosen for a Test and, yet again, it is difficult to see Atherton having had a hand in it.

Mark Ilott has been picked to give the pace attack a left-armer's variety, even though Thorpe's omission suggests that Illingworth thinks the batting does not need something similar, while Peter Such is recalled after unluckily missing out in the West Indies. With no room for the likes of Nasser Hussain and Mark Ramprakash, and Andrew Caddick, Phil Tufnell and Chris Lewis all unavailable, only six of the winter's 17 tourists have survived.

Illingworth had barely warmed the seat of his new chair when he warned that this might happen,

although he said yesterday that there had been 'no disagreements'. This was followed by a pause and a ps: 'I'm telling you the truth.'

As for the Yorkshire influence, he said: 'Just tell people that when Yorkshire are strong England are strong.' Nothing wrong with that argument, but if you want to locate Yorkshire's Championship position at present, you would be quicker working your way up from the bottom than down from the top.

(Table omitted)

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