BY MARTIN JOHNSON
There may be other surprises on the way this summer, but short of England winning the Test series 6-0, and Ray Illingworth subsequently claiming that it had nothing to do with him, yesterday's selection of Peter Martin of Lancashire in the 13-man Texaco Trophy squad will take some beating.
The inclusion of last winter's A-team captain, Alan Wells, may have been mildly unexpected, but Wells has long been one of the country's classier batsmen, and hardly compares with the elevation of the 26-year-old Lancashire pace bowler from the "Who's He?" ranks of English cricket.
One theory might be that Illingworth, fed up of hearing that no one else gets a vote under his autocratic chairmanship, said to his captain on Thursday: "OK, Michael, just this once I'm going to give you a pick." And Atherton responded by dipping into his own dressing-room at Old Trafford and tossing in a name guaranteed to bring a bewildered expression to his chairman's face.
However, Illingworth appeared to have ruled out this particular scenario yesterday when he said: "I've watched Martin three times this summer, and Athers confirms that he has bowled well. I rated him last year, and this might just give him a taste. Gee him up a bit." One of Illingworth's compliments, though, came from the back of the hand when he said: "There's not a lot of seam bowling talent around."
Glen Chapple, an A-team tourist last winter, and Mike Watkinson, a batsman who can bowl both seam-up and off-spin, were both thought more likely picks than Martin from the Lancashire dressing-room, but the selectors are apparently worried about Chapple carrying a minor knee niggle, and Watkinson's name did not receive much air time in lengthy deliberations over the fringe candidates.
One of those was Surrey's 23-year-old all-rounder, Adam Hollioake, a stylish right-hand batsman who, according to Illingworth, only needs to improve his seam bowling a little more to be a serious contender for the Test squad. Dear oh dear, here we go again. It is the old story of the selectors requiring only the flimsiest of evidence to persuade themselves that Bloggs is an all-rounder, when the only genuine all-rounder England have had since Ian Botham has been Alec Stewart.
Chris Lewis might have been a contender, had it not been for a body that appears to be allergic to cricket gear, and Illingworth acknowledged as much when he said: "I don't know. He plays a couple of games, and then you don't see him again for weeks."
The omission of John Crawley certainly has Illingworth's fingerprints on it, as Atherton rates Crawley considerably more highly than his chairman. Illingworth's view on Crawley's on-side bias is that it makes him more vulnerable to the moving delivery, while Atherton is more inclined to the opinion that it is a method which worked passably well for a West Indian batsman by the name of Viv Richards.
Another factor against Crawley is his fielding. There were times in Australia when Crawley made Philip Tufnell looked like Jonty Rhodes, and although Illingworth admires the way Crawley has since shed a couple of stone in weight, the accent on fielding is now so pronounced (in Test as well as one-day cricket) that Crawley will always lose out to the likes of Mark Ramprakash in any marginal deliberation.
There were any number of mentions in dispatches - Hollioake, Craig White ("not bowling well enough at the moment") Trevor Ward, Jason Gallian - and while it is fair to say that encouragement is no bad thing, it also suggests that England are not mug enough to fall into Australia's fatal trap of identifying a hard-core of talent and sticking with it. The last four Ashes series, in fact, have been a total fluke.
ENGLAND 13: M A Atherton (Lancashire, capt), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), G A Hick (Worcestershire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex), N H Fairbrother (Lancashire), A P Wells (Sussex), D G Cork (Derbyshire), P A J DeFreitas (Derbyshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), S D Udal (Hampshire), A R C Fraser (Middlesex), P J Martin (Lancashire).