England rue the lost generation

Simon O'Hagan finds Test selection policy burdened by weight of numbers
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The Independent Online
IT'S flower-picking time again. Spring is with us and there are all those lovely blooms to choose from. But which are the loveliest? That is the perennial problem facing the England cricket selectors, and as Ray Illingworth, Fred Titmus and David Graveney begin their search for the men who must take on the West Indies this summer, they might do well to ponder just how many have waved invitingly in the breeze in the past.

The 65 cricketers listed are all those who have played a Test match for England and are still in the first-class game in 1995. It should be an exclusive club. But if we multiply the 18 counties by 10, to allow for each one's overseas player, the total of 180 suggests that more than a third of current English cricketers have already played for England.

As a proportion of what is available, this figure does not differ so much from those for Australia and the West Indies. But the numbers involved are far higher. And in any sport, the lower the turnover the better.

In the 20 years since Graham Gooch made his England debut in 1975, England have used 132 players. Over the same period Australia have used 110, the West Indies 73. Over the past 10 years, a starker picture emerges - 85 England cricketers used as against 57 for Australia and 39 for the West Indies.

The figures for the past five years are more revealing still. During that time England have used an astonishing 52 players (34 for Australia, 30 for the West Indies). Few statistics illustrate more clearly the troubles of the England Test team recently, and the muddled selection which has caused them or been caused by them, depending on your point of view.

Since the England A team was established with the tour to Kenya and Zimbabwe in 1989-90, 57 players have turned out for them. Of those, 29 have gone on to play for the full England team or had already done so. Add the remaining 28 to the 65, and more than half of the English cricketers who are first choice for their counties have represented their country at senior or reserve level.

Then there is that very rare breed indeed: Englishmen who have played in one-day internationals but neither at Test nor England A level. There are three of them, and lovers of cricket quiz questions may want to go away and try to work out who they are before reading the next sentence. The answer is: Shaun Udal, Colin Wells, and Monte Lynch, giving a grand total of 96 cricketers playing this season who have England representative honours of some kind or other.

The damning aspect of the not-so-exclusive England club is the number of players who have come and gone before being given a proper chance - 37 of the 65 having played in fewer than 10 Tests, and 29 in fewer than five. Of course, not all of them will remain in that category - one can reasonably hope that Darren Gough, for example, will improve on his total of seven Tests.

But down there among the single-figure men is a lost generation of England cricketers, batsmen in particular. Men like Mark Benson, John Stephenson, James Whitaker, Kim Barnett, Rob Bailey, Tim Curtis, Paul Terry, Hugh Morris, John Morris and David Smith, whose England careers were over almost before they had started.

Bowlers are slightly different. Here one has to take into account horses- for-courses selections when a player was chosen for a specific Test. Neil Mallender is one of the better examples. On his Test debut against Pakistan at Headingley in 1992 he took eight wickets. It's quite difficult to drop someone after that, so the selectors didn't. But after his second Test, Mallender was gone.

At least Mallender escaped membership of the dreaded one-cap wonder club. As it happens, two of them were up against each other on the opening day of the county championship season last week - Neil Williams of Essex, and Whitaker of Leicestershire. At close of play at Chelmsford, after taking five wickets, Williams recalled his only Test, against India at the Oval in 1990.

"I'd been bowling well at the start of the season, but by the time I was chosen my form had gone a bit. What I remember mainly was batting with Graham Gooch. I went in as nightwatchman and got 38. But I took a couple of wickets - Tendulkar and Azharuddin, and I wondered whether I might get chosen for the winter tour. But I didn't even get in the A squad. It was very disappointing."

Dennis Amiss, former England batsman and selector, now secretary of Warwickshire, said he felt there was "a void" between county and Test cricket in which the country's best players get lost. "But you don't really know whether a player has mental hardness until you give him an opportunity. In 1968 against Australia, we were told at the start of the series that there wouldn't be more than 16 players chosen all summer. We ended up using about 30."

David Lloyd, coach of Lancashire, believes none of the England batsmen with two or three caps could be blamed. "They weren't given an extended run. Maybe we do have too many players to choose from, but it's like England's rugby union team. They decided a few years ago who they wanted and that was it. Look what's happened to them."

The test of time: The 65 England Test cricketers still playing the first-class game

G A Gooch (Essex, aged 41) 118 Tests

M W Gatting (Middlesex, 37) 79

A J Lamb (Northants, 40) 79

J E Emburey (Middlesex, 42) 63

R A Smith (Hants, 31) 53

M A Atherton (Lancs, 27) 45

A J Stewart (Surrey, 32) 45

P A J DeFreitas (Derbys, 29) 43

R C Russell (Gloucs, 31) 36

G A Hick (Worcs, 28) 32

D E Malcolm (Derbys, 32) 32

R T Robinson (Notts, 36) 29

C C Lewis (Notts, 27) 27

A R C Fraser (Middlesex, 29) 24

C W J Athey (Sussex, 37) 23

P C R Tufnell (Middlesex, 29) 22

N G Cowans (Hants, 34) 19

G C Small (Warwicks, 33) 17

B N French (Notts, 35) 16

E E Hemmings (Sussex, 46) 16

M R Ramprakash (Middlesex, 25) 15

G P Thorpe (Surrey, 25) 15

D J Capel (Northants, 32) 15

N G B Cook (Northants, 38) 15

W Larkins (Durham, 41) 13

S J Rhodes (Worcs, 30) 11

N H Fairbrother (Lancs, 31) 10

M D Moxon (Yorks, 34) 10

P W Jarvis (Sussex, 29) 9

A R Caddick (Somerset, 26) 8

P M Such (Essex, 30) 8

D Gough (Yorks, 24) 7

N Hussain (Essex, 27) 7

I D K Salisbury (Sussex, 25) 7

J P Crawley (Lancs, 23) 6

T S Curtis (Worcs, 35) 5

R J Bailey (Northants, 31) 4

K J Barnett (Derbys, 34) 4

M P Maynard (Glamorgan, 29) 4

C White (Yorks, 25) 4

A P Igglesden (Kent, 30) 3

M C Ilott (Essex, 24) 3

M J McCague (Kent, 25) 3

H Morris (Glamorgan, 31) 3

J E Morris (Durham, 31) 3

P J Newport (Worcs, 32) 3

N V Radford (Worcs, 37) 3

D A Reeve (Warwicks, 32) 3

S L Watkin (Glamorgan, 30) 3

M P Bicknell (Surrey, 26) 2

R J Blakey (Yorks, 28) 2

J H Childs (Essex, 43) 2

R K Illingworth (Worcs, 31) 2

M N Lathwell (Somerset, 25) 2

N A Mallender (Northants, 33) 2

T A Munton (Warwicks, 29) 2

D M Smith (Sussex, 39) 2

J P Taylor (Northants 30) 2

V P Terry (Hants, 36) 2

J E Benjamin (Surrey, 34) 1

M R Benson (Kent, 36) 1

A C S Pigott (Surrey, 36) 1

J P Stephenson (Hants, 30) 1

J J Whitaker (Leics, 32) 1

N F Williams (Essex, 32) 1