Solanki can leave the rest standing

an all-rounder determined to make his name in England
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The Independent Online
The Rest always was an unfortunate name for a cricket team. Whenever they appear it invariably sounds like an XI whose members can consider themselves jolly lucky to be given a game and in truth should be having a rest rather than playing for them.

Not so, of course, as will be evident once more on Friday when the latest incarnation of the archetypal scratch team steps out at Edgbaston to play England A. In the ranks will be four men who have already played Test cricket, perhaps most pertinently the captain, Mark Ramprakash. To a man the other seven (the rest, if you like) will all harbour hopes of doing so and while it may be stretching things to suggest that the future hopes of English cricket are riding on their shoulders this is the clearest sign yet, for many of them, that the selectors have both seen and taken note.

The boldest selections are probably those of two 19-year-olds, Alex Tudor, the Surrey fast bowler, and Dean Cosker, the Glamorgan left arm spinner, each of whom has played only five matches. Such adventure is not unprecedented. Last year, the first in which this particular fixture was played, The Rest included the left-arm fast bowler Paul Hutchison, of Yorkshire, who was then only 18, after a hugely impressive tour of Zimbabwe with England Under-19s. The poor lad took 1 for 123, bagged a pair and spent most of the rest of the season injured.

The other names in this year's list are slightly more predictable, rewards both for services rendered on the county circuit in 1996 and immediate future potential. Vikram Solanki fits this bill exactly. As a batting all-rounder who bowls off-spin, he began to establish himself in the Worcestershire side last summer and did so effectively enough to finish third in their Championship batting averages (734 runs at 43.17) and second in the bowling charts (26 wickets at 31.34). He is also in the forefront of the modern generation of fielders who can pounce from any angle to stop full-blooded attacking shots for breakfast and then knock down the stumps for lunch and tea.

"This is my second full season coming up and everyone says the second season is always more difficult than the first," he said during a break from the Worcestershire nets last week. I've got to do better than I did last summer but I'm not going to change my game."

It was good to hear his firmness about staying the way he is (and heartening to know Worcestershire's similar view on the matter, too) because though he has played only 20 first-class matches there is an unconfined zest about Solanki's cricket. In the field he can lurk like a September wasp, then pounce with alacrity, he gives the ball a fair tweak and as a batsman, his primary business, he not only goes for his shots but hits them hard. He is one of those players you hope makes it all the way because of the way he plays.

Solanki, 21 on 1 April, was destined to be a cricketer from an early age. Born in India, a country about which he is still fetchingly passionate (though it should be said he also fell in love with Australia this past winter and can never wait to get home to Blighty), he came to England when he was eight. His mum is English, his dad is Indian.

Vikram recalls having played a little in his formative years on the sub- continent - strange if he hadn't - but did not pick up a bat meaningfully till he was 11. He went with some pals to Wolverhampton Cricket Club and could hardly have been more immediately triumphant.

"On my first day there I was sent for trials for the Staffordshire under- 11 team. I don't think it was because I was any good, more because they'd got a quota of boys to send along and I was there. Anyway it worked, because I got in. I just played, batting at number seven or eight and bowling seam up. I didn't have much coaching and still haven't."

Solanki was spotted by Worcestershire at 15 and swiftly offered terms. Plans for university were shelved, though the initial consultations with his family on the issue were a trifle strained. In 1995, at 19, he played six times for the county. It still irks him that he did not, as he sees it, get in on merit but only because Richard Illingworth was picked for England. It clearly irritates him that he has yet to make his maiden century.

"I love playing cricket, love it, though I can get bored in the field if the ball isn't coming my way. But it's a great game." This was said with wonderful enthusiasm but it was a beautiful spring day at New Road. You hope The Rest will be a marvellous start for the rest of his career.