Stephen Brenkley: Graveney puts one-day game in its place

The new direction: Limited-overs side to be used as a proving ground for Tests and there's a new role for Academy
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The Independent Online

England intend to use their one-day squad as a training ground for the Test team. The new strategy means that although they will always attempt to pick the strongest Test side, the limited-overs team will be a work in progress between World Cups.

England intend to use their one-day squad as a training ground for the Test team. The new strategy means that although they will always attempt to pick the strongest Test side, the limited-overs team will be a work in progress between World Cups.

In a paper on selection protocol released last week, the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, said: "These policies are likely to lead to an injection of youth into the ODI squad after each World Cup, with the ODI and Test teams converging to a greater degree as each World Cup appr-oaches. A number of talented young players should benefit from an early involvement in the ODI squad, which may help them to progress to the Test squad and to feel at home on the international stage when introduced to the Test team."

The paper also heralded an about-turn on annual intake at the much-vaunted National Academy. Gone will be bright, unformed youth in place of players with more experience, who will be chosen because they are seen as immediate cover for the senior teams. In effect, the Academy in future will be a return to an England A team.

The selectors' strategy on the relationship between one-day and Test teams has two clear aims. First, they want to ensure that they are building a one-day squad to peak at the World Cup, which is hardly a piece of startling thinking considering the lamentable early exits at the last three tournaments. Secondly, they hope that will avoid the blooding of completely raw Test players who are more likely to struggle to adjust.

There are also two reasons that make it risky to divulge this publicly. Every time the one-day side lose - which is bound to happen, as it does occasionally to Australia - there are likely to be yelps of protest from impatient fans and sections of the media dedicated to the instant fix.

Equally, in trying to win every Test match by picking the best side available, it means that the selectors could be accused of not planning for the future and building a team to win the Ashes, still the main prize in English cricket.

John Carr, the England and Wales Cricket Board's director of cricket operations, who sat alongside Graveney as the protocol was announced, recognised the dilemma. "Of course everyone wants to beat Australia. Until we do that we can't be the No 1 side in the world, which is our mission [by 2007] but it's important to have ongoing success, and the World Test Championship is based on ongoing results." Woe betide them if England are again clobbered in the Ashes next summer.

Both Graveney and Carr made it clear that the one-day team would be trying to win every game, but that the World Cup was a specific goal. Indeed Graveney, in explaining his paper, tried to distance himself from the suggestion that the one-day arena was primarily breeding territory.

"We don't sit down and plan that," he said. "But I would certainly concur with what Andrew Strauss said in that he gained a lot from being in the one-day squad before he went and played Test-match cricket. It's a big jump from domestic cricket to a Test match, but also not knowing the players you're playing with is the same scenario. It's something we're conscious of, but it's not a plan that we're trying to operate, X is selected in a one-day squad specifically because he's going to play a Test match."

But it can be no accident that England have chosen newcomer Sajid Mahmood, the Lancashire fast bowler, and the returning Kent batsman Rob Key, in their one-day squad for this summer. It gives them a chance to see if Sajid takes to international cricket and to get Key used to the rhythms of the England dressing room again. Key has had indifferent one-day form this season, but has already made more than 1,000 first-class runs.

While Graveney's paper is designed to stipulate how sides are picked, there was probably an element of self-protection. England looked faintly disorganised in the West Indies on the recent tour when they changed their wicketkeeper. Chris Read's replacement, Geraint Jones, was guaranteed a run in the side by Michael Vaughan, who is the captain but not a selector. As Jones has been a huge batting success, Graveney was being extremely canny in admitting that lines of communication were his responsibility.

He is in his eighth year as chairman of selectors. He is only the fourth man not to have played Test cricket to do the job and only Alec Bedser, who did it from 1969 to 1981, has done it for longer. "What I've learned from being a selector is how you assess an individual," he said. "There's a lot of things other than batting and bowling to take into consideration."

The way that Test teams are to be picked is positively confusing. On tour, the coach and captain will decide on the team after the touring party has been picked by the four-man selection panel. That will be the case whether Graveney or any of the other selectors turn up or not.

At home, however, the whole selection panel will pick the squad and the team. This is because, according to the paper, the captain and coach may not have seen enough of a player in the squad to feel comfortable with including him in the final XI, whilst the other selectors may feel strongly that he should play. It should be fascinating to see what happens if Vaughan is saddled with a player he doesn't trust.

In the Nineties, for example, Michael Atherton did a fine job of seeming to ignore Craig White after Raymond Illingworth, the then chairman, insisted on picking him. Vaughan is a different animal.

The move to changing the National Academy intake is not wholly surprising after a young team were well beaten in India last winter. But acquiring A tours may be difficult, as England have no intention of reciprocating. "It's a factor that comes up," said Carr.

It is important to have these procedures outlined. Of course, they will be tested only if England start losing.