Events take a turn to give seal of approval for 36-year-old newcomer

Udal is the surprise selection of England's pre-Christmas tour. At 36 he can hardly be looked upon as a youngster with a bright future, but he has been the best English-born spinner in county cricket this summer.

Udal acted as Hampshire's stand-in captain while Shane Warne was on Ashes duty, and he had the honour of leading the county to Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy glory at Lord's two weeks ago.

"I am absolutely thrilled," Udal said after hearing of his selection. "You hope that the selectors go on a player's form in county cricket, because that is the only way most of us can prove that we are good enough to play for England.

"My form in county cricket over the last few years has been excellent, and it is nice to know that the selectors do look at county cricket and pick the guys that are in form. It gives everybody in county cricket hope, even those of us who are 36."

The presence of Warne and the seamer-friendly nature of the Rose Bowl pitch meant that Udal did not feature in many of Hampshire's early-season Championship matches.

He more than made up for the absence of Warne, taking 27 wickets in the five games the Australian leg-spinner missed. And it was these performances, along with his ability to bat, that earned him recognition ahead of Gareth Batty, Graeme Swann and Min Patel.

This will not be Udal's first overseas trip with England. The off-spinning all-rounder toured Australia in 1994/95 but Phil Tufnell kept him out of the Test side, and his appearances for England were restricted to one-day internationals.

"I was beginning to wonder whether I would ever get another chance," he said. "However, one of my strengths is that I have always believed I have been a good enough cricketer. I am a better cricketer now than I was 10 years ago. I now have the nous and the know-how to do a job in whatever capacity I am needed."

David Graveney, the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman of selectors, defended the decision to pick a veteran ahead of a youngster. "Udal is a guy who has been involved in county cricket for a long time," he said. "Spinners can play at that sort of age and statistics will show that Udal is by far the performance bowler at the present time, which is why we want him to go."

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