Grudging Illingworth gives in to modernism

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The Independent Online


When England get around to picking a cricket team for the second time in a Test match series, Plan A is rarely to be found anywhere other than the wastepaper basket - alongside, on this occasion, Alec Stewart's wicketkeeping gloves.

These days, in fact, the entire basis for picking an England side appears to revolve around asking Alec whether he would care to do several jobs for the same money - and while England's vice-captain acquiesced through clenched teeth at Headingley, a polite "get stuffed" message has resulted in Stewart being restored as Michael Atherton's opening partner for Lord's.

Stewart, who probably had uncomfortable visions of being asked to open the bowling and keep wicket to himself before the summer was out, will hand over the gloves to Steven Rhodes, and while Raymond Illingworth's five-bowler policy has been jettisoned at the first available opportunity, the chairman did not allow the occasion to pass without a Fred Trueman- style "snort" at modern thinking.

"The feeling in the modern game," Illingworth said, "is that we have to have six batsmen, score 600 runs, and bowl them out twice." Whether he was applying these figures to a single match or the whole series is perhaps open to debate, but Raymond is clearly not happy. "It rarely works out like that, but that's the modern thinking," he said.

Modern thinking about Raymond's selectorial input is that he operates on the same democratic principles as Ghengis Khan, but once the chairman discovered that nothing short of applying the thumbscrews was going to persuade Stewart to come onside, he reluctantly concluded that four bowlers was the only option.

He actually went as far as offering Stewart the option of keeping wicket and opening the batting, but, Illingworth said, "he didn't want to do it. If Alec is not prepared to do both jobs, it is best to go back to four bowlers. That's fewer than I'd have liked."

Illingworth just about stopped short of calling modern players selfish, but there was certainly a veiled inference over both Stewart and Robin Smith, who has been retained in preference to John Crawley as a downthe- order batsman.

"When Robin went back to Hampshire after Headingley he batted at No 4," Illingworth said. "They all go back to their own positions and do what they want", which presumably included Stewart returning to Surrey as a specialist opener. This is more like it. Nothing but harmony in the camp.

Having been forced to find a wicketkeeper, England have returned to Rhodes, who was chosen ahead of the only other specialist to enter the debate, Jack Russell. "He has the temperament we want," Illingworth said, which was certainly a more acceptable comment than "I could see nothing wrong with his wicketkeeping in Australia." Ye gods. No wonder Illy thought that the nine-wicket stuffing at Headingley was a close contest.

The only other change in the squad for Lord's is the not unexpected replacement of Devon Malcolm with Derbyshire's inform Dominic Cork. Malcolm, Illingworth said, would be unsuited to the easy-paced Lord's pitch, which made a further dent in the chairman's reputation for blunt speaking. Bowled like a drain at Headingley would have been more accurate.

Angus Fraser, omitted on the morning of the game at Leeds, will definitely make the final XI this time, and with Cork likely to make his Test match debut, the outcome of Peter Martin's fitness test on his thigh strain may not be especially relevant. Phillip DeFreitas is also in a squad of 13, but would appear to be no more than cover for Martin - for whom the likely upshot of receiving selectorial praise after his Test match debut is a swift return to county cricket.

The other injury doubt in England's squad concerns the captain himself, who has recently undergone two cortisone injections after a more serious than usual recurrence of long-standing back problems. No less than three opening batsmen are on stand-by, Trevor Ward of Kent, Andy Moles of Warwickshire, and, probably the favourite, Atherton's Lancashire team-mate and winter A team tourist, Jason Gallian.

Gallian's Australian birthplace and upbringing makes him yet another of those cricketers who are English-qualified as opposed to thoroughbred English, and while England's results might be seen as a sound reason for spreading the selectorial net as widely as possible, it is scarcely a trend calculated to promote patriotic fervour.

ENGLAND (v West Indies, Second Test, Lord's, 22-26 June): M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt); A J Stewart (Surrey); G A Hick (Worcestershire); G P Thorpe (Surrey); R A Smith (Hampshire); M R Ramprakash (Middlesex); S J Rhodes (Worcestershire, wkt); D G Cork (Derbyshire); D Gough (Yorkshire); P A J DeFreitas (Derbyshire); P J Martin (Lancashire); R K Illingworth (Worcestershire); A R C Fraser (Middlesex).