England must look to the tried and tested

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The Independent Online
England have not fought shy of raiding the old people's home during this series, and when the selectors sit down tonight to pick their final Test side of the summer, they will give a fair amount of consideration to unlocking the door of the jail house.

When the West Indies were last here in 1991, Philip Tufnell found himself incarcerated in county cricket for wayward behaviour in Australia, and the Middlesex left arm spinner is once again doing porridge after making fairly serious inroads up the captain's nose last winter.

Earlier this week Raymond Illingworth said that he was looking for somewhere to take a shower because nothing was coming out of his taps in Farsley, in which case the chairman will already have Tufnell in his thoughts. Wherever Tufnell is, hot water is rarely too far away.

Tufnell's volatile temperament once again got the better of him during Middlesex's recent game against Nottinghamshire, when he was being plagued by a not unfamiliar attack of no balls. When the Lord's crowd suddenly broke into loud applause, in acknowledgement of a 50 partnership, Tufnell mistook this for an ironic reaction to one of his rare legal deliveries, and responded with a gesture that re-united him with the only worn surface he does not much care for. Namely, the Lord's disciplinary carpet.

However, while Tufnell is unlikely to be asked to tour again under the current hierarchy (unless his airline ticket is one-way) when the selectors are sifting through the potential replacements for Richard Illingworth, Tufnell remains the most logical choice.

Incidentally, now that England are in the business of forging a side with a bit of long overdue backbone, Illingworth's batting performance with a broken finger at Trent Bridge was so far over and above the call of duty, that he should also be paid a match fee for The Oval despite his unavailability.

Tufnell's place in the final XI rather depends on whether England want two spinners. Mike Watkinson is a certainty to play, but with Kenneth Benjamin and Ian Bishop in such good form, and Curtly Ambrose returning after a decent rest, the selectors will be hard pressed to resist the six batsman option.

This would, at long last, mean a first cap for Alan Wells, although even with five batsmen there would still be a strong case for preferring him to Graeme Hick on The Oval's traditionally bouncy surface. There is, apparently, less pace in the pitch than usual, which is far from bad news against this opposition, but would also make the selectors think twice about a recall for Devon Malcolm.

John Crawley's position will be up for review, not least because he appears to have mislaid the whereabouts of his off stump. However, the alternatives are not especially enticing, and although the Yorkshire left hander David Byas is a strong candidate on weight of runs, it is the weight on the mind which counts at this level, and with England going into the final Test of a major home series for only the second time since 1985 with a chance of winning it, this is no time to be blooding new boys.

Illingworth has not, by all accounts, yet given up on Craig White, which merely means that the chairman has more confidence in White than White appears to have in himself at this level. If England are to include an all-rounder in the squad, then a return to the in-form, and always confident, David Capel would make more sense.

England's other option is to play five batsmen, and trust in Jack Russell's batting enough to use him at No 6. Watkinson and Dominic Cork would then move up a place, and there would be room both for two spinners and three pace bowlers. England, though, have no real form to speak of when it comes to bold attacking strategies, and it will be a rare occurrence if they can bring themselves to raid the batting department for an extra bowling option.

The selectors will not yet be convinced about Nick Knight (or if they are, they ought not to be), they have no regular No 3, and while Hick will almost always make a big score when he is allowed to plant his front foot down the pitch with little or no danger of physical damage, the guarantee expires when the back foot enters the equation.