Double vision for Woolmer

Alisdair Ross hears South Africa's coach predict a split in cricket's future
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The Independent Online
The laptop is never far from hand. Bob Woolmer, greying head bent over the screen, punches away at the well-worn keys - between overs, of course. It is a familiar sight in South African cricket these days.

Woolmer, lost to the English game after masterminding Warwickshire's triumphant revival in the early Nineties, is now carefully plotting an equally ambitious course to fresh success on two fronts. As ever, there is no room for half-measures in the South African coach's latest blueprint for international cricket in the millennium.

Thankfully, Woolmer avoids computerspeak. He has become an accomplished PR man, and his vision of the game in the next century is simple enough. Typically the explanation, delivered patiently in schoolmasterly fashion, is crystal clear.

The regulation baseball cap, provided by the sponsors, is rakishly pushed to the back of his head as Woolmer says: "Everybody in the game, me included, has to realise that the only way for Test cricket to survive ultimately is to divorce it totally from the one-day circuit.

"There have always been very different types of cricket, but the divide is getting greater each year. The gap will continue to increase, so we have to make decisions now to safeguard the game's future, in general, and Test cricket in particular.

"More than ever, players need vastly diverse skills to be successful in either code. I believe it will become increasingly unlikely, and unreasonable, to expect the top professionals to compete to a high standard at both levels.

"Of course, there will always be gifted individuals who will excel at both the one- and five-day game, but I believe they will be few and far between. There is, I am convinced, the need to introduce totally separate squads for both types of international cricket. In South Africa we are working towards that aim. I would like to see it in place by the next World Cup in 1999."

Clearly, South Africa would be unlikely, or unwilling, to ignore the pace of Allan Donald for such an important competition, but the 30-year- old bowling spearhead could be one of the first to find his limited over career seriously curtailed. Donald will not complain. Others, like the crackerjack fielder Jonty Rhodes, or all-rounder Lance Klusener, may discover international longevity in the cut-and-thrust of the one-day arena.

It is clear that Woolmer is already working towards his aim of a specialist one-day squad for 1999.Five of the side for the third one-day international against Australia on Wednesday, for example, when the series was balanced at 1-1, had not been involved in the final Test.

England, in fact, are no strangers to this world. Neil Fairbrother, Dermot Reeve and, more recently, Alistair Brown, have been almost exclusively reserved for the 50-over bash. And Ian Botham was arguably the one-day game's first pinch-hitter, but Woolmer insists that the specialisation will go further, and that fully dedicated squads will be the way forward.

This will, of course, bring problems for the young player, who will have to make his mind up early which game will be his forte, and in England for the counties, who will have to get the balance between the two formats right. Woolmer is aware of the difficulties. "I was a lot luckier in my playing days," he said. "When I was a young guy learning my way with Kent I had to do it in the three-day championship game. The one-day stuff was a bit of a novelty. First-class cricket was what really counted.

"When I got into the England side, the emphasis was on Test, rather than one-day, cricket. Now players have to learn the one-day game first. They have to be fitter, faster, more athletic. The batters learn to play with improvisation, the bowlers have to operate on a specific line and length. It's understandable that the switch to the five-day game must create problems."

South Africa's school and youth structure are already geared to the one- day system, although Woolmer is keen to adopt additional long-distance cricket at provincial under-18 level - traditions die hard for Englishmen.

The laptop is a calculated concession to the modern world, Woolmer's way of taking the game down sport's superhighway. It's not all hi-tech, however. Somewhere, the village green on a warm, August Sunday is part of the vision. So is a packed Lord's on another Thursday Test morning. Woolmer, for all the latest software, wouldn't have it any other way.