Precious little reward for the patient A team

INSIDE CRICKET
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The Independent Online
The England Test team announced yesterday showed that the selectors are prepared to give players a run in the side. Once they had picked Illingworth and Smith for Headingley, it was only fair to give them another game. The problem is that it has left the A team players from the winter - Dominic Cork apart - out in the cold again.

A lot of them will be very confused by the teams that have been picked this summer. It seems there is some continuity from selection meeting to selection meeting, but not from winter to summer. I believe, from my own experience of A tours, the latter is more important.

It is hard to know these days what being picked for the A team means. If you select a side for a winter tour on the basis that it should be the 16 next best cricketers after the full touring side - or a mixture of promising young players and a few experienced pros - then, surely, you are telling them that they are on the fringes of the first XI for the following summer if all goes well. That message is not being backed up the following summer.

There will always be the possibility that someone will come from nowhere early in the year to earn a call-up, like Peter Martin - although he would have been in my and many other people's A team for India last year - but there is not much point in selecting an A team in the interest of forward planning and then ignoring the results. Remember, the A team did extremely well in India.

Not many players have made the transition from A team to regular Test status; I can think of Rhodes, Gough, Ramprakash, and that's about it. Unless more A team players are given a chance, the prospect of a tour will not motivate them. If that is the case, you might as well scrap them.

At least Stewart will open at Lord's. That had to happen. Leicestershire's wicketkeeper, Paul Nixon , who bats six for his county, would have been my choice from last winter's A team to earn promotion ahead of Steven Rhodes, but a specialist of any sort is a plus.

I would have gone for Mike Watkinson, of Lancashire, as an all-rounder to give the side balance, instead of Cork. Not a recent A team player, I know, but a tough competitor, which is what you need against the West lndies. Watkinson can bat and bowl, off-spin as well as medium pace, and is well respected on the county circuit. I have never understood why he has not had a look in, but I can live with it if Cork's selection ahead of him is a sign that the selectors are going to reward A teams for winning efforts.

That said, whatever the selectors plan for the rest of the summer, nothing will ever surprise me in cricket after last Thursday when 30 wickets fell on the first day of Northamptonshire's County Championship game against Essex at Luton. Graham Gooch, who opened for Essex, recalled playing against Kent at Folkestone in the early 1980s when there was similar carnage. That, though, was different.

According to Gooch, the first ball of the innings bounced on a length and went straight over his head. There followed a 20-minute break before the next delivery, the time it took Graham to put on his helmet, visor, chest protector, forearm block and anything else he could find in the dressing room as padding. Last week the wicket was relatively blameless. It was more a combination of indifferent batting - I have seen a lot of that already this season - a few dubious lbws and some good bowling.

A word of sympathy for Tim Curtis, who resigned last week as captain of Worcestershire. Leading a county is as demanding a job as being a player- manager of a Premier League football team. Everybody wants a piece of you. It can wear anyone down. I do not know how the likes of Derbyshire's Kim Barnett carry on for so long. I have captained Northants and enjoyed doing it but, everything considered, I would not want the job, full-time.

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