India ultimatum for 'tired' tourists

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England's reluctant tourists, Alec Stewart and Darren Gough, had the law laid down by the England team management yesterday after they had expressed their desire to opt out of part of this winter's tour to India and only go on the New Zealand leg after Christmas.

David Graveney, the chairman of the England selectors, effectively handed them an ultimatum when he said: ''The selectors feel it would set a dangerous precedent to allow players to pick and choose which elements of a winter tour they are prepared to undertake.

''In recent weeks the England selectors have held discussions with a number of senior players regarding their availability for this winter's tours of India and New Zealand. As in the winter of 2000-01, two separate six-month contracts will be offered to players to cover the Test series and the one-day international series in both countries.

''Every effort has been made to look after the players' interests with regard to the demands of this winter's schedule, and the itinerary for India has been rearranged in order to enable the players to spend Christmas at home.

"The selectors' approach to this issue has been flexible. 'Test-only' contracts for this winter have been offered to certain senior players to allow them to rest from the one-day programme and this offer remains on the table." Which wrapped up a pretty miserable weekend for Stewart, whose disbelief, dismay and dissent at becoming Shane Warne's 400th Test victim cost him 20 per cent of his match fee – around £1,000.

He had expressed his desire to skip the India leg of the winter tour, and wound up his Sunday newspaper column thus: ''New Zealand is a country where I have enjoyed good success and I look forward to returning there in February.''

There was little sympathy from past players either. Graham Gooch was able to opt out of the New Zealand leg of the 1987-88 winter tour. He played in the World Cup in India, then toured Pakistan, before returning home for Christmas. But when the rest of the touring party set off for New Zealand after the festive season Gooch stayed put. ''I have sympathy with both sides,'' said Gooch, ''but the selectors are quite within their rights to insist that players go on both legs of the tour. Alec has to accept that he plays in both or neither." But Gooch added: ''It might be in the long-term interests of Gough. He needs a break. The longevity of his career might be better served if he gets a rest.''

Ian Botham was more blunt. ''They are rested in between Tests and it is only a short tour. They even get to come home at Christmas. Tours are a lot shorter than they used to be. It is an individual decision, but if you do opt out then you have to face the consequences of trying to get back into the side.''

David Gower, who also opted out of the 1987-88 tour, said: ''There might be precedents in the past but they do not fit in with Nasser Hussain's 'Team England' ethic.''