England trawl through the old boy network

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The Independent Online
Some countries could hold a party for their current Test players inside a telephone kiosk, but England would have to hire the Albert Hall. The managed to put 23 on to the field in Australia last winter after taking off from Heathrow with 16, and the odds on them adding a few more to the 20 they have already used in four Test matches so far this summer would not be over generous.

England have employed 37 players in 22 Tests under Michael Atherton's leadership, have not named an unchanged Test side since their tour to the West Indies two winters and 16 matches ago, and the injury to Robin Smith in that memorable victory at Old Trafford ensures at least one change in the 11 for next week's fifth Test at Trent Bridge.

Alec Stewart would have been the obvious swap, but his thrice-broken finger has not healed sufficiently, and when the selectors reconvene this evening, they will doubtless discuss recalling Graeme Hick.

If so, they should firstly ponder the fact that one of their better players of fast bowling is now sporting a fractured cheekbone, then close their eyes and recall Hick adopting a similar method against the short stuff at Edgbaston, and promptly consign his name to the litter bin.

England have such a glorious chance of winning this series that they will want to pick an old hand with a sound technique against fast bowling - and after recalling John Emburey at Old Trafford, additional supplies of Phyllosan for the Trent Bridge dressing room cannot entirely be ruled out.

There is, for example, the temptation to recall Emburey's oldest chum Graham Gooch - as they might well have done for Old Trafford had he not been so badly out of form - but the old codger's 142 for Essex against Hampshire on Thursday, on an admittedly flat pitch at Colchester, now looks an intriguing piece of timing.

Neither is Allan Lamb, despite now being officially classified as mutton, an entirely fanciful notion. Jason Gallian, ruled out of the last Test with a broken finger, could return to bat at No 3, while another chance for Mark Ramprakash or even Nasser Hussain could also enter the equation.

Ramprakash continues to puzzle the substantial number of English professionals who consider that very few batsmen, if any, can hold a candle to him in terms of natural ability, and yet with a Test average of 17.33 from 30 innings, it is something of an achievement to find that the selectors are still talking about him.

However, if England really are looking for a one-off hired gun, they should really look no further than Alan Wells. The Sussex captain is no more fond than anyone else of having high-velocity missiles flying around his ears, but he happens to play them better than most, and if the heatwave is still with us at Trent Bridge, the coolest thing in Nottingham will be Wells' temperament.

Nick Knight was a slightly curious selection for Old Trafford, and the customary left-handers' vulnerability outside the off stump is apparently being addressed by the specialist batting coach, John Edrich. England also have Peter Lever looking after the bowlers at Test matches, which is being sold as part and parcel of the new, ultra-professional set-up. In reality, it is a bogus pile of claptrap.

When county cricketers are picked for England, it is not unreasonable to assume that they have been chosen because the selectors consider them to be fairly decent players. So what happens? They turn up two days before a Test, and are immediately invited to tinker with their technique by people who have to be seen to be doing something.

So much of cricket, and Test cricket in particular, is played between the ears (and we are not talking about the literal connotation when the West Indies are bowling) that the last thing a player needs when he is walking out for a Test innings is a load of technical mumbo-jumbo buzzing around his head. What England should be looking to are ways of helping players making the difficult mental adjustment, rather than flooding the ground with old players.

Under present circumstances, it is difficult to know which old players are coaching and which ones are playing, and with none of the younger breed of spinners demanding inclusion, the 43-year-old Emburey has a decent chance of hanging on to his place. Richard Illingworth or Peter Such are the most obvious alternatives.

Apart from finding a replacement for Smith, the only other serious debate is likely to involve Craig White's position at No 6. White was comfortably England's most anonymous player at Old Trafford, and as scarcely a Test goes by without at least one selection plucked out of nowhere, Ronnie Irani of Essex might be a dark horse. On the other hand, given that Raymond's current address is Memory Lane, Farsley, the 32-year- old David Capel cannot quite be ruled out on the grounds that he is far too young.

County Championship, page 21