Selectors should pick horses for courses

ON CRICKET
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The Independent Online
Agreeing to the right mix of players for any tour is hard enough. But even before the English selectors begin to consider squads for the Test series in South Africa, the A tour to Pakistan, and the World Cup, to be jointly staged by Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, the locations and itineraries already agreed for the next six months of international cricket present a number of unusual options. The prospects for success, all round, could be enhanced by opting for the unconventional.

The tour of South Africa features a five Test series and then seven consecutive one-day internationals. What everyone seems agreed on is that the touring party should consist of players who have the best chance of winning the Test series. But with the World Cup due to start a little over three weeks after the last limited-over match in Port Elizabeth, it makes sense to bring in for the seven one-day fixtures some of the specialists - Neil Fairbrother, Tim Munton and Dermot Reeve - who are sure to feature in the World Cup squad.

With the A team going to Pakistan before Christmas, there is an argument for sending World Cup players without experience of cricket of any sort on the sub-continent just for a taster. It would help prepare them for the three weeks of intense competition they will face in February and March.

Modern-day travel means that professional cricketers can be shuttled around the world at short notice. After 48 hours to acclimatise and a couple of good net sessions most players are ready to perform even at the highest level. That said, with the World Cup in mind, there are good grounds for keeping the one-day stars as fresh as possible (and therefore off the A tour, even if they are inexperienced) and hidden from the South Africans (and therefore away from the Cape).

Looking long term, with the well-being of the Test side in mind, it is equally important that the selectors give a clear indication of what each place on the A tour means for those selected. There is still some confusion on the county circuit over the significance of being picked. Does it mean that you are one of the 16 next best cricketers in the country outside the Test squad, eligible to play for England? Or have you been singled out as a player for the future whom the selectors hope will form the backbone of the Test side in three to four years' time?

The composition of the A squad to Pakistan obviously depends on which of these holds true. If the purpose of the tour is to develop young players then I would make a strong case for the selection of Warwickshire's Wasim Khan. He impressed me early in the year playing their second XI and has broken through into the firsts, where he has also performed well. Russell Warren at Northamptonshire has shown potential, too, for filling the Alec Stewart wicketkeeper-batsman role. This type of player is important on modern tours because a second keeper can end up very idle once the internationals start unless he is good enough to play as a batsman in his own right.

Supporters of Under-19 cricket would argue for the inclusion of the side's captain, Marcus Trescothick. He has been out of form for Somerset, but scored heavily in the junior series with South Africa. If the structure that has been established for the development of future English Test players - Under-19, A team, full team - means anything, he should go to Pakistan.

There seem to be only a few places left for the tour of South Africa once you have included all those who excelled against the West Indies and who, for that reason, deserved to go. My 16 would not feature Wells, Knight or Gallian, but would include Ramprakash. I would also persevere with Crawley and would try to smuggle Tufnell on the plane, but have no doubt that Richard Illingworth will tour. Good luck to all those picked.

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