Butcher should not be the victim of England's success

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The Independent Online

The splendour of Michael Vaughan's Test side has given England selectors an easy summer. Each of their nominations - Andrew Strauss, Robert Key and Ian Bell - have seamlessly slipped into the England team and its ethos. They have grabbed their opportunities and added vibrancy to an exciting young side.

The splendour of Michael Vaughan's Test side has given England selectors an easy summer. Each of their nominations - Andrew Strauss, Robert Key and Ian Bell - have seamlessly slipped into the England team and its ethos. They have grabbed their opportunities and added vibrancy to an exciting young side.

The retirement of Nasser Hussain, along with Mark Butcher's injuries have helped. It has allowed this four man committee to avoid making any contentious decisions.

But that was until now. The result of England's success has meant that the selectors now have three batsmen competing for two batting places in this winter's tour party. The selectors will announce the 16 players that will travel to South Africa today, but much time will have been spent debating several issues.

Is it right to leave an exciting youngster - Key or Bell - at home and take an older player - Butcher - who appears to be becoming injury prone?

On this occasion, yes. Butcher has done little wrong since he was recalled to the England side in 2001. Before this spate of injuries the 32-year-old played in 42 consecutive Test matches, scoring 2,938 runs at an average of 41.97. Key has scored a double hundred and a match winning 93 this summer and deserves to keep his place. Unfortunately Bell will have to wait.

But Butcher's record away from home is poor, and his Test average is still only 34.92?

True, Butcher has scored just two of his eight Test centuries on tour and averages only 28.81 while abroad.

In the long run England would hope that Key and Bell will have better records than this but who would the South Africans least like to see coming in at No 3?

But Butcher's recent form has been patchy. He had an excellent tour of the West Indies in the spring but either side of that series he was indifferent. This could cost him a central contract.

England's aim is to be as good as Australia. What would they do?

It is a misconception that Australia throw in youngsters every time there is an opening. Of their top seven only Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich - both 29 - are under 30. But all these players have a career Test average of over 40, so they would probably drop Butcher.

Is there a danger of Bell losing the momentum, confidence and form he gained this summer and not getting it back?

There is a chance but if he is as good as most people believe he is he will return with these intact.

Restricting the number of specialist batsmen to six allows the selectors to pick an extra bowler. Who will it be?

Well, it will not be a spinner. Ashley Giles has a role to play but it is hard to see him getting the same help from pitches in South Africa as he has in England. Gareth Batty will tour but he will play little cricket in a country where fast bowling rules.

Who will it be then?

Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, James Anderson and Simon Jones are certain to tour. The selectors may well go for Kabir Ali but I would pick Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis.

Why, surely it should go to a young thruster like Ali, Sajid Mahmood or Chris Tremlett?

Touring now is different to five years ago. Then there were two or three warm-up matches before the first Test and regular games thereafter. But now the side zip in and zip out of countries and the guys on the sidelines need to be able to prepare in the nets. Younger bowlers struggle to do this so there is a greater need for a steady, reliable figure who knows how to get his game in order. Lewis, who has taken 51 first class wickets this season, offers this.

And finally the wicketkeepers. Who should be Geraint Jones' understudy?

Simple. Chris Read. If he does not go on the tour it cannot be for cricketing reasons. He was dropped because he did not score enough runs, yet averages 59 with the bat this summer.

Probable squad to tour South Africa

M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, M A Butcher, R W T Key, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones, C M W Read, A F Giles, G J Batty, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, M J Hoggard, S P Jones, J J Lewis

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