Selectors scan the field in search of fielders

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The Independent Online
The England selectors meet tonight to pick a squad for next week's Texaco Trophy series, and if Michael Atherton harbours the sneaking suspicion that his position at the voting table might just as well be occupied by a vase of flowers, this is probably the one area in which his chairman is not inclined to disagree with him.

Raymond Illingworth came within a thin outside edge of dispensing with his captain's services after the winter altercation over tour selection, and is seriously contemplating a recommendation (albeit with a "nothing personal" attachment) that Atherton be disenfranchised altogether.

Under current regulations, Atherton is at least allowed to speak at selection meetings, whether Raymond is wearing his earplugs or not, but Australian cricket captains have never had a say in picking the team, and this is a system which is beginning to appeal to Illingworth.

"I'd say that there is some merit in the way the Australians do it," Illingworth said, "and it is something I've been thinking more and more about." Whether or not this thought process would have been engaged had Atherton spent most of the winter saying "Of course I didn't vote for Angus Fraser. As far as I'm concerned, Illy has a blood line running all the way back to Solomon" is a moot point, but while Illingworth is certainly not the sort to take personal criticism with great equanimity, he claims that it is less of an issue than the unsettling effect on the team.

"We all know that Michael criticised some of the selections in Australia," Illingworth said, "and it was hardly ideal if some of the players got the feeling that their own captain did not want them there. If, on the other hand, the captain had not been involved in selection, there would have been no problem of that sort."

In terms of the business at hand - picking a team to do well in the limited- overs version of the game - Atherton has had plenty of cause to grumble with the selectors in recent years, when he was unfairly pigeonholed as not suited to this type of cricket. This was all the more fatuous for the fact that he was jettisoned after being named man of the series against the West Indies in 1991, and did not re-establish himself until inheriting the captaincy from Graham Gooch two years later.

Atherton averages over 40 in one-day internationals, and is a clear example of the fact that the one-day game requires something a touch more cerebral than wading in with a team of sloggers. The West Indies' batsmen do not look to block too many deliveries, and yet they have lost every one of their last six Texaco games against England.

This is also indicative of the fact that the Texaco has no bearing whatsoever on the Test series, and that the notion of one team or another picking up pyschological bonus points is so much baloney. With the exception of the World Cup, and deadly battles between India and Pakistan, one-day international cricket is essentially about the crowd having a good day out and a tight finish, as opposed to who actually wins.

That said, both England and their supporters would still rather win than lose, and to that end the selectors' major area of discussion this evening will not so much revolve around batting or bowling, as fielding. In Australia, England's performance in this department would have been barely tolerable in WG Grace's day, and the ability of a player to save 15 runs in the field should count more in his favour than whether he may or may not slog 15 runs at the end of an innings.

One of England's major problems in Australia was that all their better athletes were specialist slips, and given that most slip fielders in one- day cricket have been made redundant by half past 11, this will not be so much of a problem until the selectors sit down to pick a Test team.

Of the players currently struggling to make the Test side, Neil Fairbrother, Dominic Cork, Shaun Udal, Paul Weekes and Mike Watkinson should all be in with a chance of making the 13 man Texaco squad, which may (or may not) look something like this:

Atherton (capt), Stewart (wkt), Hick, Thorpe, Ramprakash, Crawley, White, DeFreitas, Gough, Fraser, Udal, Cork, Fairbrother.

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