Flat Jack stirs the select few : CRICKET

Cricket is crying out for change. Simon O'Hagan studies the field as the men who choose the England team are chosen
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The Independent Online
THE laissez-faire days of Ted Dexter will seem very distant indeed if Jack Simmons is voted on to the panel of England cricket selectors on Wednesday week. Lord's has felt the rush of bracing northern air that has accompanied Ray Illingworth in his first year as chairman. Bring Flat Jack on board and the windows in the Long Room could really start to rattle.

Of the five selectors, three are in place automatically: Illingworth, whose contract has a year to run; whoever is captain, i.e. Mike Atherton; and the manager Keith Fletcher. That leaves two places for which there are four candidates: the present incumbents Brian Bolus and Fred Titmus, both seeking re-election, and the two who it was last week announced would challenge them - Simmons, the 53-year-old former Lancashire off- spinner, and David Graveney, the 42-year-old former Gloucestershire, Somerset and Durham slow left-armer.

This being cricket and not politics, or at least not politics with a capital P, there are no hustings or manifestos or speeches or photo-opportunities for the 20 members of the Test and County Cricket Board to be persuaded by. It is not even as if candidates for the job can put themselves forward. They have to be nominated by a county. But it was always clear what Simmons stood for as a cricketer - a hard-but-fair old-school professionalism - and as a would-be selector expounding his views the figure he cuts is as well defined.

Since retiring in 1989, when he was 48, Simmons's involvement with the game has hardly decreased. He plays Lancashire League cricket for Blackpool and continues to work as an agent, finding clubs and counties for overseas players. He cites the specialist knowledge he has of them as something he would bring to the selectors' party. He became a Lancashire committee member three years ago, while his main job is co-director of a leisure centre in Trafford Park in the south of Manchester, which he proudly showed off last week while groups of children on half-term played echoing games of netball and football.

Upstairs, in his modest little office, Simmons drank coffee out of a bucket of a tankard - he is a noted trencherman - and explained in one word what had gone wrong with the England team in Australia. "Confidence." But what about the choice of players? Were they too old?

"Yes. We did it the wrong way round. The more experienced team should have gone to the West Indies the previous winter. Then in Australia we could have had a younger one." In the youth versus experience debate - a recurring theme of the last year - Simmons's position is, perhaps not surprisingly, closer to Illingworth's than Atherton's.

"I'm a great believer in a balanced side. I've never seen, in any sport, a team of total youth that won anything. I think Michael might be being interpreted slightly wrong. I think he wants a few more youngsters, like your Ramprakashes, maybe your Nasser Hussains, maybe your Crawleys, but for me you've to have that little bit of experience. If you want three or four youngsters in the batting line-up you need a couple of older ones to help them along the way.

"With bowling, the same can apply. If it's your first or second Test and there's Haynes or Richards in full flow and you're getting a bit of a hiding, the captain should be able to throw the ball to an experienced bowler and say, `Right, you take the pressure off.' "

So who would Simmons have taken to Australia who was not in the original party? "Neil Fairbrother. A left-hander. Good player. But their policy was they were going out to win the Test series and weren't too worried about the one-dayers. I can't really go along with that. If they're there, we've to go and win them. Why have that attitude? That was starting off on the wrong foot. Success breeds success."

Ability, Simmons believes, matters less than character. "Ability? They've all got ability. But there's a lot that haven't got it here," and he pointed to his heart. "And some I wouldn't give the time of day to. But I won't mention those. They just annoy me - they won't fulfil the ability they were born with."

It is easy to see why Simmons, whose game was based on application and commitment, should have no time for dilettantes. But for all he achieved in 22 seasons with Lancashire, notably in the one-day game in which he reached 11 finals, he was never made captain of his county nor played at Test level.

"Someone said to me, `Test cricket's a different game'," Simmons said. "And I thought, well, do you play with two balls and six wickets? To play a game under pressure on one day of a Test would have to be very similar to the pressure you come under in a one-day final. You don't have them five days in succession, that I would always hold my hand up for. But I can't see that there is a great deal of difference. There must be some, yes. I would hope I could learn that from Illy."

Simmons did captain Tasmania, bringing success to Australia's weakest state, and both he and Graveney can take heart from the fact that two of Australia's four selectors have no Test-playing experience.

Age is also on Simmons's side, as it is with Graveney, which says something about the men they are seeking to replace. And because his career went on so long Simmons can also boast that he has played against every member of the latest England side.

A selection panel that included Illingworth, Atherton, Simmons and, say, Bolus, would certainly be geographically concentrated. And why not, you might say, after years in which Middlesex and Essex always seemed to be the favoured counties. But would outsiders be justified in fearing that the selectors were biased?

"They might think that. But I would hope they would see that John Crawley, for example, is going to be a good player, just like Micky Stewart had faith in Graham Thorpe. Now Thorpey had two bad seasons but he was still selected for the A side. My argument was why should Thorpey go on the tour when he's scored 500 runs and someone from Lancashire who's scored 1,700 can't get on. I asked Micky that very question, and he said, `Jack, I have faith that he will come through.' That's fine. But if we're having that policy, let's have it for all."

How the other candidates measure up

Fred Titmus

Age: 62

Nominated by: Middlesex

Background: Off-spinner for Middlesex from 1949 to 1982. 53 Tests for England between 1955 and 1974-75. Former Surrey coach. Test selector from 1986 to 1988 under Peter May.

The same vintage as lllingworth and shares his nous. Says it is nonsense to suggest that younger selectors would differ much in their choices. "It only ever comes down to one or two people. Most people, whether selectors or not, would be in agreement over the rest." Stresses that, contrary to Press reports, the Ashes party was a unanimous choice, although accepts now that taking Gatting, and excluding Fraser, were mistakes. Also points out that the same panel that chose the senior party also chose the highly successful England A party for India and Bangladesh.

For: Backed by Illingworth.

Against: Age; expertise in off-spin duplicated by Illingworth.

Brian Bolus

Age: 61

Nominated by: Nottinghamshire

Background: Opening batsman for Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Captained the latter two. First-class debut 1956; retired 1975. Played seven Tests for England in 1963 and 1963-64.

Feels that the year he has spent doing the job will stand him in good stead if re-elected. On youth versus experience: "We need to take both into account. If two players are level, but one is younger; then of course we'd go for him because we must build for the future." On selectors' age: "There's nothing wrong with having younger selectors. But it's quality that matters. We all played the same competitions that the present generation of cricketers plays."

For: Backed by Illingworth. Only specialist batsman on panel.

Against: Age. Relative lack of experience at Test level.

David Graveney

Age: 42

Nominated by: Gloucestershire Background: Slow left-armer for Gloucestershire, Somerset and Durham. First-class debut 1972. Retired 1994. Managed Mike Gatting's rebel tour to South Africa in 1989-90. Captain of Gloucestershire and Durham. Now general secretary of Cricketers' Association.

Believes that England are entering a new era in which it would be appropriate to have younger selectors such as himself. "I feel I can offer the same sort of wisdom and sense as the other selectors. But if I'm not chosen I won't go off in a huff." Defends the principle of the captain going on to the field with the team of his choice.

For: Age. Close ties with players through job as head of players' union and having played until so recently.

Against: Lack of Test experience. Possibly too young for Illingworth.