Football: So that's what the Christmas rush means

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SHORTLY AFTER 10.30 on Tuesday morning my plans for Christmas were changed. We had arranged a big day at home. The whole family were coming round. Our daughter, Kara, is not yet three and her presents were piled under the tree.

It was then that David Graveney, the chairman of the England selectors, called. An extra batsman was being called up to the tour of South Africa and they were talking to three of us. A decision would be made later in the day. Was I available?

Of course, I was available but it wasn't quite so straightforward. I had to talk to my wife, Vandana, and a few people at Middlesex. It was disruptive, obviously, but there could be only one decision. Cricket is my job.

That afternoon, Graveney rang back to say the place was mine. He made it clear that I was going only as cover and as far as I can gather the only way I will play is if people selected in the original squad are injured.

Having got over the shock, it was extremely welcome news. When I was dropped after the last Test of the summer - and deeply disappointed to be so - I did not know then how far away I was from the selectors' minds. I might have vanished from them forever. Even if I don't get a game at all in South Africa, at least I now know that is not so.

For two months I have spent much of my time preparing for my benefit year, which starts on Sunday. As luck would have it I have also picked up a cricket bat. I might not have done, for I was not put on official stand-by and it is the close season even for professionals. But a few weeks ago, the Middlesex seamer, Richard Johnson, rang to say he had been picked for an MCC party going on tour on 8 January and wondered if I would have a net.

So, a group of us have been down at the Lord's indoor school. It is not quite like outdoor practice but it has given me the familiarity with the bat again. Actually, I feel quite good.

Having accepted the invitation there was then the small matter of rounding up something to play with. It meant there was no way I could make a Wednesday flight as England would have preferred. Players are particular about most pieces of their equipment. My helmet was with an artist friend who is drawing me in batting action for the benefit brochure. He needed the helmet to get the detail right. I needed it to take to Durban.

I had only one bat in my possession from last season. I quickly arranged with my suppliers to have some more delivered before the flight out on Thursday. It was a hurried job. Gloves, armguards, pads and trousers were intact.

These past few months when I have not been on tour have helped me to be in the real world. In preparing for the benefit I have been seeking advertising and articles for the brochure, helping to arrange matches and dinners and speaking to businessmen about possible involvement. It has been a long distance away from cricket.

I had become accustomed to not being with England. I had to. There was no point at all in dwelling on my omission or why I felt it should not have taken place. Things between David Graveney and myself are fine. What's been said is behind us. I can't wait to start work with England's new coach, Duncan Fletcher, who has already built up a reputation for his one-to-one relationships with the players. It is never easy going cold into a tour like this and it was sad to miss Christmas by a London fireside. But I want to play for England again.

Andrew Caddick interview, Chris Adams, page 20