England give youth a chance

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The Independent Online
Beef was surely not on the menu when Ray Illingworth and his selectors got their heads together to pick England's one-day squad for the three forthcoming Texaco Trophy matches which begin on Thursday at The Oval. What else could explain the sudden attack of common sense used in getting shot of all the specialists and 30-year-olds ill-suited to the frenetic pace of the modern one-day game, and replacing them with young all-round talent.

There are five changes from the squad that performed so woefully in the World Cup. Of these, three - Alistair Brown, Ronnie Irani and Mark Ealham - are uncapped, while Chris Lewis and Matthew Maynard are recalled and Alec Stewart takes over as wicketkeeper from Jack Russell.

With the 50-over game and its fielding restrictions in mind, the selectors have gone for mobility, as well as flexibility and batting depth, by stuffing the team full of all-rounders. Apart from the predominance of seam over spin, England are heading down the road paved by Sri Lanka, where batting with pinch-hitters and fielding are deemed more important to winning matches than bowling. However, whether or not this road of batting excess will lead to the palace of wisdom depends on how good the pitches are, and only The Oval can be guaranteed to be a belter.

Fortunately, it is Alistair Brown's home patch. Brown, whose confidence has been happily reinstated after a soul-searching season with Surrey last year, is in cracking form with the bat. Barring injury, he is sure to open the innings on Thursday, a packed Oval the fitting place for him to win what many regard to be a long overdue first cap.

In contrast, Ronnie Irani's selection follows what has been a remarkable rise from a seemingly inert berth in the Lancashire second team to England contention with Essex, whom he joined two years ago. Possessing an enormous amount of self-belief, his batting under pressure has been a proven match- winner already this season. A quickfire 81, following an 82-ball century, both chasing, have been decisive in Essex's two Championship wins this season. His bowling, however, is not as strong, following a back injury and a remodelled action. With Alec Stewart likely to bat at six, this may limit his chances of playing, unless Neil Smith's spin is overlooked.

Also looking for a berth in the overcrowded all-rounders' niche will be Kent's Mark Ealham, a surprise selection given Ray Illingworth's loyalty towards Craig White, and recognition for Ealham's consistent, rather than eye-catching performances over the years. Apparently White was considered, but soreness to the side he damaged in the World Cup ruled him out of contention.

Ealham's role as a bowling all-rounder who can bowl the closing overs is one he shares, and one he will therefore compete for with Chris Lewis, once more recalled and once more claiming to have been re-invented.

Critics of Lewis will claim they have heard the rhetoric before, but those who have seen him play this season cannot have failed to be impressed, particularly by his bowling, which has been fast and loaded with aggression. Frustratingly for those who pick and play with him, this is nothing new and he will have to stay fit for many to start taking him seriously again.

Matthew Maynard is another who has been recalled, narrowly preferred to Nasser Hussain for a specialist batting spot in the first five. As another member of the squandered talent club, Maynard was going into decline until Glamorgan made him captain.

That responsibility appears to have removed the reckless streak that made him suspect under pressure. He will in all probability bat at five, allowing England to alternate hitters (Brown, Hick, Maynard) with accumulators (Atherton, Thorpe, Stewart).

In keeping with the belief that batsmen were more culpable than bowlers for the failures of the World Cup, most have survived. Only Richard Illingworth, who has not started the season well, has been overlooked, Neil Smith's off-spin being preferred largely on the back of his successful pinch-hitting for Warwickshire.

Spin aside, it leaves Atherton with some variety in his attack. Cork and Peter Martin can move the ball away from the right-handers while Gough and Lewis will bring it into them - no bad thing in one-day cricket where bowling to a field is almost as important as taking wickets.

However, if England are committed to the Sri Lankan model, it will be the batsmen who decide the three-match series through sheer weight of runs. Mind you, before anyone gets carried away, it may be worth recalling that, last year, two out of three Texaco man-of-the-match awards went to bowlers.

England Squad One-Day International Averages

BATTING

M I No Runs HS Ave 100 50 C S

G A Hick (Worcs) 59 58 7 1982 105* 38.86 2 15 30 0

G P Thorpe (Surrey) 25 25 3 840 89 38.18 0 7 15 0

M A Atherton (Lancs) 37 37 2 1333 127 38.08 1 10 10 0

A J Stewart (Surrey) 73 68 5 1882 103 29.87 1 12 55 4

N M K Smith (Warwicks) 5 4 1 72 31 24.00 0 0 1 0

M P Maynard (Glam) 5 5 1 59 22* 14.75 0 0 1 0

D Gough (Yorks) 22 16 5 159 45 14.45 0 0 4 0

C C Lewis (Surrey) 48 36 11 315 33 12.60 0 0 20 0

P J Martin (Lancs) 12 9 6 27 6 9.00 0 0 0 0

D G Cork (Derbys) 19 11 0 92 21 8.36 0 0 3 0

A D Brown (Surrey), M A Ealham (Kent), and R C Irani (Essex) have not played in one-day internationals (* denotes not out)

BOWLING

O M Runs Wkts Ave 5W BB

P J Martin 105 7 459 19 24.15 0 4-44

D Gough 202.4 16 789 32 24.65 1 5-44

N M K Smith 37.3 2 151 6 25.16 0 3-29

D G Cork 190 13 824 29 28.41 0 3-27

C C Lewis 391.4 25 1735 61 28.44 0 4-30

G A Hick 140 4 696 18 38.66 0 3-41

G P Thorpe 8 0 45 0 - 0 -

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