Test stage will still be daunting step up for Trescothick

The big question of the week is: how excited should we be about Marcus Trescothick? The big answer, at the risk of being boring, is: quite. Scores of 79, 49, 29, 87 not out and 20 as an opener in his first five internationals tell the story - the classic tale, familiar to those whom spend their Saturday afternoons watching Busby Berkeley films rather than sport, of the understudy who is suddenly thrust into the leading role and becomes an overnight sensation. Trescothick has been fearless, nerveless, looking to enjoy himself, and as a result has done all the simple things well: picking the length, rocking back or forward, watching the ball, and keeping the bat vertical or horizontal, not angled or dangled.

The big question of the week is: how excited should we be about Marcus Trescothick? The big answer, at the risk of being boring, is: quite. Scores of 79, 49, 29, 87 not out and 20 as an opener in his first five internationals tell the story - the classic tale, familiar to those whom spend their Saturday afternoons watching Busby Berkeley films rather than sport, of the understudy who is suddenly thrust into the leading role and becomes an overnight sensation. Trescothick has been fearless, nerveless, looking to enjoy himself, and as a result has done all the simple things well: picking the length, rocking back or forward, watching the ball, and keeping the bat vertical or horizontal, not angled or dangled.

But - in English cricket there is always a but - this is only the one-day game, with its flattish pitches and tight restrictions on bowling and field placing. And opening is the easiest, least pressured place to bat in one-dayers. And look at the bowlers: West Indies' spear-carriers, Zimbabwe's honest trundlers. This is a tournament between the three worst one-day teams out of international cricket's big nine, and only England have been able to field their first-choice attack.

It has all been a very long way from Curtly and Courtney in the first two Tests. So let's not fall into the trap of deducing that Trescothick is better than Nick Knight or Mark Ramprakash or, to mention someone else who didn't make significant runs in the first two Tests, Alec Stewart.

Stewart has said that he expects Trescothick to be picked for the third Test in two weeks' time - but then Stewart's undoubted strengths as England captain possibly did not include selection: he is the man who didn't take Andy Caddick to Australia, the country where he could reasonably be expected to be most effective.

Duncan Fletcher has said something very similar, but the jury is out on him as a selector too: he seriously thought Chris Adams and Darren Maddy were a better bet than Ramprakash against Donald and Pollock, he went into the last Test with five specialist seamers when it was blindingly obvious that four was enough, and he thought Matthew Hoggard was more likely to take wickets against West Indies at Lord's than Angus Fraser.

To present Ambrose and Walsh with a debutant opener at Old Trafford on 3 August, would be like introducing a teenager in a low-cut dress to a couple of elderly vampires. The opening pair the two old legends won't want to see that morning is either Stewart and Mike Atherton, both playing their 100th Test and bursting to mark the occasion appropriately, or Atherton and Michael Vaughan, the combination that drove (well, stonewalled) West Indies to distraction at Lord's.

Trescothick, however, has every chance of making it in the long run, for the simple reason that he has been properly prepared. He has played one-day internationals en route to getting a Test cap, and before the one-day internationals he went on an England A tour. If this sounds like a logical progression, it is one that is denied to many England players. Ed Giddins, Chris Schofield, Alex Tudor and Mark Butcher have all played Tests without getting a one-day cap. Tudor, Ben Hollioake and Simon Brown all made the Test XI, without having been on an A tour; Tudor and Brown still haven't. Hoggard reached the Test team without a taste of either one-dayers or an A tour. England have got their pipeline in a twist.

Contrast the very mixed fortunes of that lot with the entrances made by Trescothick and two other men who have played for England in the past month: Graham Thorpe and Dominic Cork.

Thorpe made a hundred on his Test debut against Australia in 1993 - after playing three one-day internationals earlier that summer (making 31, 36 and 22), and, before that, going on four A tours. Cork exploded on the Test scene with 7 for 43 against West Indies at Lord's in 1995. He too had been on four A tours, and had appeared in the one-day team four summers running, winning eight caps, the first of them against Pakistan in 1992, in Ian Botham's last game for England.

Cork and Thorpe have been mismanaged since, Thorpe when he returned home from the West Indies in 1994 to find Ray Illingworth giving his place to Craig White, and Cork when he was first overpromoted into a new-ball bowler, then over-bowled and twice sent into the wilderness. But at least they had had a solid grounding. Since their youth, the gap between Test and county cricket has widened by about 100 per cent - which makes it all the more vital that the stars of the future are allowed to reach the big stage one step at a time.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com.

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