England need to send out new message

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The Independent Online
The selection season may be about to start, but the message on Graham Gooch's answer phone suggests that it will be every bit as silly as usual. The message, which runs: "We're all out again and back in the field. But if you want to get selected, please leave your name after the tune," is clearly Gooch's attempt at making light of his new role but, after England's abysmal showing in the World Cup, it is probably as good a way as any of picking the team.

That task takes place tonight and, judging by the number of polished performances by possible contenders already this season, there will be plenty to discuss when Ray Illingworth and his quorum meet up in Nottingham, to pick England's squad for next week's Texaco Trophy matches against India.

However, two uncapped players, whose sheer weight of runs will have waived the need to leave their names on Gooch's answering machine, are Alistair Brown and Ronnie Irani, the latter having already informed Gooch of his suitability as a limited-overs all-rounder with several stirring knocks for Essex in championship and one-day cricket.

On form, both are front-runners, but should only be selected if England have a clear strategy in mind. In Pakistan, England's World Cup campaign was a befuddled shambles, where pinch-hitting was gingerly toyed with as a token effort to be hip in a game plan that was otherwise stagnant.

If a hitter is required at the head of the order, Brown is the John Daly of the pack, though Nick Knight is striking the ball well and is a better fielder, now that Brown's throwing arm has gone. Graeme Hick, who has the experience as well as the strokes and power, could also fill the role, something many have been advocating for a while.

Since the winter, David Lloyd has been appointed as coach, a move widely applauded amongst cricketing cognoscenti. In weather more suited to one- man sleds than one-day cricket, Lloyd has travelled further than a wandering albatross, watching live play as well as hundreds of hours of videotape, in a bid to come up with slump-busting ideas for England cricket.

His emphasis on multi-dimensional players - players who don't just bat or bowl but can field as well - particularly for one-day cricket, is an obvious move in the right direction, and will no doubt block re-entry for solid performers like Angus Fraser, Peter Such and possibly Peter Martin, despite the Lancashire man's emergence as England's most consistent one-day bowler of the winter.

Yet, perhaps it ought to go further. On the sub-continent's bare, placid pitches, Sri Lanka effectively did away with specialist pace bowlers, stuffing the side with all-rounders and getting front-line batsmen like Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya to fiddle their way through 20 overs.

English pitches are not quite as heartless towards seam bowlers, nor our tacticians quite as gung-ho, but the selectors could go still for something similar.

By having Alec Stewart to keep wicket and bat at six, and by recalling all-rounders Chris Lewis and Craig White, to play alongside Irani, the batting could be fortified. That would leave them to share seam bowling duties with Dominic Cork and Darren Gough, neither slouches when it comes to batting, while slow bowling duties would be the remit of the Worcestershire pair, Richard Illingworth and Graeme Hick.

Such batting depth would undoubtedly help overcome England's recent timidity, allowing more than just the pinch hitter to be bold in the early overs of the innings. If so, the likes of Nasser Hussain or Matthew Maynard could find themselves batting at four, with Graham Thorpe filling the linchpin role at number five.

More controversial altogether, considering Illingworth and Gooch's caustic thoughts on the matter, would be the inclusion of Andrew Symonds, an exciting young talent of Australian upbringing, now throwing his lot in with Gloucestershire and England, the land of his birth.

Symonds possesses the kind of bravado that much of English cricket lacks. However, his recent confusion over who he would like to play cricket for has not endeared him towards those who feel England has been far too diluted by those who accept her badge simply for the convenience of making a living.

Two months ago, Michael Atherton would have been similarly confused - though for different reasons. With England's stock near its lowest ebb since his appointment as captain, Atherton must have come close to quitting the post he feels honoured to hold.

Any upturn in England's fortunes will require his fullest attention and he too must be bold particularly in his body language on the field.

POSSIBLE ENGLAND SQUAD FOR TEXACO TROPHY: M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt), N V Knight (Warwickshire), A D Brown (Surrey), G A Hick (Worcestershire), N Hussain (Essex), G P Thorpe (Surrey), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), R C Irani (Essex), C White (Yorkshire), C C Lewis (Surrey), D G Cork (Derbyshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), P J Martin (Lancashire), R K Illingworth (Worcestershire).