Tufnell, a man whose behaviour on four overseas tours has ranged from the petulant to the psychotic, was thought unlikely to tour again after a succession of captains, including Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton, sought to wash their hands of his disruptive influence.
Although it is doubtful that Gooch has revised his doubts over the spinner, Atherton obviously has, at least for the moment. The "Cat" may be back, and although Illingworth would not be drawn into confirming it, he is on the last of his nine lives. For Tufnell, though, who has 74 first-class wickets this season - a timely 13 of them last week against Lancashire - the selection will come as just reward for a corner turned and a season spent knuckling down to his cricket. It is a view shared by his county captain, Mike Gatting, whose subsequent eulogy helped secure the spinner his place.
It was a point Illingworth reinforced yesterday when he said: "Athers spoke to Gatt last week and was assured that Tufnell had improved in the direction that we wanted him to improve. His reference turned the scales, though the captain wasn't against him going."
For Illingworth, announcing his last team with a combination of ennui and relief, this was something of a climbdown from a statement earlier in the summer: that it was not worth picking a player they would not choose for a tour. That they do so now either suggests David Lloyd, who has agreed a new two-year deal as coach, is confident that he and John Emburey can get through to Tufnell, or that there are simply no proven alternatives of spinners who turn it away from the bat. That is something wrist-spinner Ian Salisbury's subsequent absence from either tour party would appear to confirm.
The two other surprises in the main squad - which apparently took less time to pick than the A team that sets off to Australia in six weeks' time with Adam Hollioake as captain - were the appointment of Nasser Hussain as vice-captain and the inclusion of the 21-year-old Yorkshire seamer, Chris Silverwood.
Hussain's appointment to the post previously held by Alec Stewart will not surprise those who witnessed his captaincy of the England A team last winter. An astute tactician, he has always been consulted by Atherton, the man he apparently is being groomed to replace. "It's nothing against Alec; we're just looking to the future," said Illingworth, perhaps unaware that Hussain is just five days younger than Atherton. "Mike is happy to carry on as long as things are going well and he is scoring runs. But if things went badly this winter or against Australia next year, he may think again, and that's when we'll look to appoint a younger captain."
Youth was the also the reason given for Silverwood's elevation from county to country, a haul of 42 wickets at an average of 30 not normally being sufficient to clinch a berth on a senior tour in your first full season of county cricket. "We decided to take one young one who we believed has a future in the game," Illingworth said. "He is a genuinely nice lad who just gets on and bowls. He enjoys his cricket and will do all right. He won't let anyone down."
This reasoning appears flawed, however, and if England hope to turn Silverwood into a top Test bowler, "nice" should not come into it. Richard Hadlee, Dennis Lillee and Malcolm Marshall were hardly known or picked for their niceness.
Silverwood is the epitome of an English bowler: hard-working, with occasional outbreaks of swing and seam, a stereotype England must resist if they are to compete successfully away from home. If England really wanted to be progressive, they should have taken Ashley Cowan. True, the young Essex paceman went wicketless at Lord's last Saturday - on a pitch Silverwood would no doubt have got a hatful upon - but his pace and height mean he has more chance of developing into a wicket-taker on flat pitches. Which is what Test cricket is all about and why England tend to struggle.
Even Dominic Cork has found the going difficult, failing to recapture the heady form of last season when he provided England with their first reliable cutting edge since the Botham-Willis era. Cork will go on both legs of the tour, but will do little bowling outside the Tests, leaving the bulk of it to Mullally, Caddick, Gough and Silverwood. Instead, he will spend more time doing remedial exercises to bulk up the muscles around his wonky knees.
Essex's Ronnie Irani won the battle of the all-rounders, apparently beating both Hollioake and Mark Ealham on the strength of his batting and attitude. Ealham joins Hollioake in the A team, a squad which combines youth and inexperience in the form of the 17-year-old Middlesex player Owais Shah with the experience of players like Essex's 32-year-old off-spinner Peter Such.
In the best traditions of Edith Piaf, Illingworth said he had no regrets over his term as chairman of selectors. "I think we're a bit better now than when I started," he said. "I expect us to win, and win well, this winter. Otherwise, we've got problems."
Scrapper Silverwood, Page 24
England squad to tour Zimbabwe and New Zealand
Player Age Caps
M A Atherton (Lancs, capt) 28 62
N Hussain (Essex, v-capt) 28 12
A J Stewart (Surrey) 33 58
G P Thorpe (Surrey) 27 32
J P Crawley (Lancs) 24 12
N V Knight (Warwicks) 26 6
R C Irani (Essex) 24 2
R C Russell (Gloucs) 33 49
R D B Croft (Glam) 26 1
D G Cork (Derbys) 25 16
D Gough (Yorks) 25 12
A R Caddick (Somerset) 27 9
C E W Silverwood (Yorks) 21 0
P C R Tufnell (Middx) 30 22
A D Mullally (Leics). 27 6
ZIMBABWE: Nov 30 v Districts (Harare). Dec 1 v President's XI (Harare); 3-6 v Mashonaland (Harare); 8 v Matadeleland (Bulawayo); 10-13 v Matadeleland (Bulawayo); 15 First one-day international (Bulawayo); 18-22 First Test (Bulawayo); 26-30 Second Test (Harare). Jan 1 Second one-day international (Harare); 3 Third one-day international (Harare).
NEW ZEALAND: Jan 10 v NZ Academy XI (New Plymouth); 13-16 v NZC Selection XI (Palmerston North); 18-21 v Northern Districts (Hamilton); 24-28 First Test (Auckland); 30-Feb 2 v New Zealand A (Wanganui). 6-10 Second Test (Wellington); 14-18 Third Test (Christchurch); 20 First one-day international (day/night, Christchurch); 23 Second one-day international (Auckland); 26 v Third one-day international (day/night, Napier). Mar 1 Fourth one- day international (Auckland); 4 Fifth one-day international (Wellington).
Tour manager: J R T Barclay. Coach: D Lloyd. Physiotherapist: W P Morton. Scorer: M N Ashton.
England A squad to tour Australia
A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt) 25
J E R Gallian (Lancs) 25
M A Butcher (Surrey) 24
M P Vaughan (Yorks) 21
A McGrath (Yorks) 20
O A Shah (Middx) 17
C White (Yorks) 26
M A Ealham (Kent) 27
W K Hegg (Lancs) 28
D W Headley (Kent) 26
G Chapple (Lancs) 22
A J Harris (Derbys) 23
A F Giles (Warwicks) 23
P M Such (Essex) 32
AUSTRALIA: Oct 31-Nov 3 v New South Wales 2nd XI (Tamworth); 6 v South Australia (Adelaide Oval); 8-11 v South Australia (Adelaide Oval); 15- 18 v Australian Cricket Academy (Mount Gambier); 21-24 v Victoria (MCG, Melbourne); 28 v Australia Capital Territory (Canberra).
Nov 30-Dec 3 v Australia Capital Territory (Manuka, Canberra); 5 v New South Wales (SCG, Sydney); 7 v New South Wales (Woolongong); 10-13 v Queensland (Gabba, Brisbane).
Tour manager: D A Graveney. Coach: G A Gooch. Physiotherapist: D Conway.Reuse content