England turn late to Wells

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The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON

Cricket Correspondent

Alan Wells will be justifiably elated that Test cricket has not, after all, passed him by at the age of 34, although it is a sobering thought to owe your place to the fact that one of the best players of pace in the country has just had the side of his face caved in by a West Indian fast bowler

Robin Smith's injury at Old Trafford is a reminder that no one leaves home to bat against this opposition without checking the insurance, although it is Wells's well-deserved reputation as a class player of quick bowling which has earned his inclusion in England's 13-man squad for this week's Test match at Trent Bridge.

On the other hand, a reputation for handling the short stuff is clearly not an essential prerequisite for selection, in that Graeme Hick (with an average of 23.72 in 22 innings against the West Indies) has not only been retained in the squad, but may yet play if England go for a sixth specialist batsman as opposed to an all-rounder at No 6.

Craig White survived a strong challenge from David Capel at Saturday's selection meeting, but, not for the first time, maintained the sort of profile at Old Trafford which would make him an ideal replacement for Claude Rains in a remake of The Invisible Man.

It is also thought that England, semi-legitimately in view of their injury problems, have decided that a draw would not be an unwelcome result here, particularly in view of their encouraging record at The Oval. It is always a dangerous thought process though, and while Raymond Illingworth was saying yesterday: "In an ideal world I would always want five bowlers," in Hick's ideal world, the West Indies would bowl nothing but half-volleys.

John Emburey, having held the fort (without actually firing his musket) for Richard Illingworth at Old Trafford, gives way to the fit-again Worcestershire left-arm spinner, while Mark Illott of Essex, comes in for Darren Gough.

Illingworth offers the option of spin variety, and Illott's left- arm seam gives the added bonus of rough patches outside the right-hander's off stump.

Illott's previous three Tests, against Australia in 1993, yielded figures of 8 for 412 from 129 overs, which was no worse than average in that particular summer of carnage.

Whether Illingworth plays both spinners, Illingworth and Mike Watkinson , or just one to complement Illott, Angus Fraser, and Dominic Cork, is entirely dependent on who bats at No 6. White offers more options in theory, but as the captain does not always appear to be aware that White is on the field, we may once again be left with England's optimistic belief that Hick will not only be hooking Bishop into the top tier, but also be ripping people out with unplayable off breaks.

Jason Gallian was not considered because of his finger injury (although it is a safe bet that the Lancashire opener was not consulted) while Yorkshire's in-form David Byas was apparently close to pipping Wells for Smith's place. Rumour has it that Allan Lamb also received brief consideration.

Tim Munton was talked about for the place eventually given to Illott, and while the fact that 22 players have now been picked for five Test matches is mostly down to injury, it also reflects England having so many cricketers of roughly equal ability to choose from.

Wells, though, has been one of the few to be consistently ignored down the years, and would have been again - despite five Championship centuries and an average of 54 - but for Smith's accident.

"He should have been playing six or seven years ago," the chairman said yesterday, an unwitting testimony to the fact that some find it as hard to get into an England team, as others do to get out of it.

ENGLAND (Fifth Testv West Indies, Trent Bridge, 10-14 August): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt), N V Knight (Warwickshire), J P Crawley (Lancashire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), A P Wells (Sussex), G A Hick (Worcestershire), C White (Yorkshire), R C Russell (Gloucestershire), M Watkinson (Lancashire), D G Cork (Derbyshire), R K Illingworth (Worcestershire), A R C Fraser (Middlesex), M C Ilott (Essex).

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