England cricketers? Just Testing

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
It has been yet another productive summer for debutants in the England Test side. Other countries, especially Australia and West Indies, the immediate past and present world No 1s respectively, strive for constancy in selection. Not England.

When it comes to the distribution of caps, we might be forgiven for thinking the selectors are mistaking continuity for confetti and showering them all over the place. All that appears to continue is the elusive search for a winning formula. This season has lived up to the norm. Six players have appeared in a Test match for the first time (which omits those who have played in limited overs internationals).

Ray Illingworth, the outgoing chairman of selectors, has shown himself to be no different from his predecessor, Ted Dexter, in this regard. Both proved to be quite willing, nay eager, to cast their net wide. Dexter started as he meant to go on, of course.

In 1989, the first year of his stewardship, England picked 29 players for the Tests against Australia. Four were debutants. The following years went: 1990, three; 1991, six; 1992, three; 1993 (Australia again), eight. Illingworth started in 1994. Five debutants were called in the first year as he showed that he meant business. In 1995 there were a further six, as there have been this summer.

Thus, Dexter gave caps to 24 new players in five home summers while five players made debuts on tour. Illingworth's tenure might have been conservative in its touring parties but its generosity at home has been immense with a total of 17 new players being capped.

Dexter's era saw 59 different players being used in 49 matches. Illingworth's has seen 40 in 28, which shows that Illingworth has been marginally more susceptible to change. Combining both eras, a total of 76 players have appeared in 77 matches. Both men have also extended the one-cap club. Dexter gave one chance and no more to John Stephenson and if Illingworth had not recalled Paul Taylor for one match the same fate would have befallen him.

During Illingworth's time, Joey Benjamin, Alan Wells, Simon Brown and Robert Croft have so far been capped just once. Poor Brown looks likely to be the latest to play only once.

Compare all this with somewhat more successful sides. In the same period from 1989, Australia have used 41 players in 68 matches even though their shortage of incisive seam and swing bowling is not much slighter than England's. West Indies have used 34 in 53 Tests, but you can probably expect a few more in the immediate future.

And the other side at the top of world cricket, Pakistan? Well, they have picked 48 players in 50 Tests since 1989. But six of the team in England were around in 1990 and five others in 1992. On most of the available evidence, at least four Englishmen can expect their first call to Test colours next summer and, as it's Australia, maybe six.

ONE of the brighter statistics in this summer's Test series is that six Englishmen have scored centuries. This is not something that has happened often, even in days that are now regarded as halcyon such as when the three Gs (Gooch, Gatting and Gower), not to mention Botham and Lamb, were in their pomp.

Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Crawley, Knight and Russell have been the 1996 centurions. The last time it happened was in 1974 when India and Pakistan were again the visitors.

Then the three-figure sextet was made up of David Lloyd, Keith Fletcher, John Edrich, Mike Denness, Tony Greig and Alan Knott.

If this is an omen, Australia were the tourists the following summer as they are in 1997. Mind you, England (having suffered a fearful beating at the hands of Lillee and Thomson during the winter) lost.

UNDERSTANDABLY, much was made of Liam Botham's outstanding first day in first-class cricket last week. He took five wickets for Hampshire.

This was a little better than his dad. It was not until Ian's fourth match for Somerset that he claimed his first wicket and while Liam's first was Mike Gatting, Ian's initial victim was Malcolm Dunstan, a batsman who played 12 matches for Gloucestershire.

"It was only a few years later that the significance of that dismissal became apparent," said Dunstan, now a crime prevention officer in Cornwall. "I don't remember anything about it but I always say it probably wasn't out, but I'm glad it was. It's my little claim to fame."

Unlike the man who ensnared him that day in May 1974, Dunstan still plays. Last Thursday, while Both Junior got his five wickets, Devon and Cornwall Police won the police knockout cup.

WHOEVER is named man of the match in England's premier knockout final next Saturday will probably have played Test cricket. Of the 33 Gillette Cup or NatWest Trophy finals, 27 man-of-the-match awards have gone to men who were or became Test players, four of them from overseas.

One-man stand

Richard Dalton scored 103 at Lord's last Wednesday. It was not enough to prevent an eventual six-wicket defeat for Bedfordshire in the MCC Trophy Final against Cheshire. It took the edge off a wonderful achievement for Dalton, who hit five off-side sixes, and is now back at work in a plastics factory, Channel Creasing Matrix. But the following day he said: "After being very nervous I forgot where I was. But then to walk off with 2,000 people standing up and applauding. You don't think it happens to you."