If it was feeble of the selectors to leave Phil Tufnell out all summer, it is brave of them to do a U-turn now
Wednesday 11 September 1996
The best thing is that Phil Tufnell is finally off the blacklist. That Tufnell was unofficially suspended for the past 18 months was confirmed when Illingworth said that he had "served a long sentence". (If the suspension had been official, there would have been an outcry, and it would have been thrown out on appeal.)
If it was feeble of the selectors to leave Tufnell out all summer, it is brave of them to do a U-turn now. The line given to reporters when he was discussed but not selected for the first Test against Pakistan was that he could not be picked at home if the selectors were not prepared to take him on tour. Now it turns out that they were prepared to take him on tour - or, more likely, that they are feeling desperate about the state of their attack. The result is that one of the many odd aspects of Tufnell's career - the fact that he has played 16 Tests abroad, where he is supposed to be such a disruptive influence, and only six at home - will become even more pronounced.
The second-best thing is that Owais Shah is going on the A tour. I haven't seen him play, and it's puzzling that he has been preferred to David Sales, who has a similarly fine record with England's teen teams and has also made a Championship double-hundred. But the mere idea of picking a man - a boy, still not 18 - with only three first-class games behind him is exhilarating. It's the kind of thing other countries do and England don't. Which means it must be right. And it will be an excellent incentive to a generation of Anglo-Asians.
The other bit of good news is the promotion of Nasser Hussain. The best move Illingworth's panel ever made was this time last year when they brought Hussain out of the wilderness and made him captain of England A in Pakistan. He has not put a foot wrong since, and he now exudes authority as well as flair. Allowing him to leapfrog Alec Stewart is another bold, unEnglish move.
But you have to feel sorry for Stewart. If cricket had its equivalent of Footballer of the Year, Stewart would be the clear winner. Dropped for the first Test, he returned to become England's best batsman. At the same time, the county he leads are poised at last to convert their undoubted talents into a trophy or two. All this while his mother has been ill and his wife was having a difficult pregnancy. Stewart's reward is to be branded too old to be vice-captain at 33. There are two men on the selection panel who have been captain of England, apart from Atherton: Illingworth, who got the job at 36, and Graham Gooch, who got it at 35, lost it, and regained it at 36.
Now for the bad news. Faced with an embarrassment of would-be all-rounders, the selectors have gone for Ronnie Irani ahead of Adam Hollioake, who looks a better batsman, or Mark Ealham, who is a better bowler. The selectors, and especially Gooch, admire Irani's relish for the fight, but Hollioake has that, too. Irani's bowling was awfully hittable against India and Pakistan. As bowlers, in Tests he and Hollioake are just partnership-breakers. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that you must pick the better batsman of the two. Irani has made four hundreds in a 66-match career, Hollioake has 10 in 55. The gap is not wholly explained by the good batting strips at The Oval.
The second mistake is picking Chris Silverwood. He's an attractive choice for the same reasons as Shah, and you could argue that Illy is entitled to one last gamble. But there's no such thing as a free hunch. The price to be paid here is that England will have no one who can hurry the opposition. What the attack lacked this summer was edge. Devon Malcolm, as the County Championship has shown, can provide it. Perhaps Illy can be forgiven for not being that forgiving. But if the last place had to go to another English- type seamer, it should have been Glen Chapple or Dean Headley, who have both had good A tours, while Silverwood slotted in below them. The A team makes no sense if it is not used as a pipeline.
Which is not to say it shouldn't also be a rehabilitation centre. On the plus side, room has been found for Peter Such; but this is heavily outweighed by the omission of Mark Ramprakash. Hollioake will probably be a good captain of the A team, but little will be learnt about him in the process; whereas there was a wonderful opportunity to see if Ramprakash could be this year's Hussain. "It's up to the players," Illy kept saying at yesterday's press conference, "to show what they can do." But how can you show a big-match temperament if you're not even in the second XI?
Tim de Lisle is editor of 'Wisden Cricket Monthly'
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