The captain's right to see familiar faces

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Ray Illingworth and his fellow selectors, who are presumably not allowed to do much more than nod in agreement as the great man expresses his views, have had a mixed season. They got it badly wrong at Headingley, at Edgbaston they were scuppered by the pitch, but at Lord's and so far at Old Trafford, they, or rather he, have got it just about right.

Although as chairman Illingworth is all-powerful, and made this clear in his public run-in with Michael Atherton, the captain is rightly being allowed his say in selection.

He has two fellow Lancastrians in the present side, John Crawley and Mike Watkinson, and if they had been fit Jason Gallian and Peter Martin would have been there - although if that had been the case it is unlikely that both Crawley and Watkinson would have played.

Captains like to have players around them they know, and no one fits that bill better than county colleagues in good form. Mike Brearley had plenty of Middlesex players with him, and when there was a selection problem Graham Gooch would always turn to Essex.

If, say, Dermot Reeve was the present England captain, one wonders how many of his Warwickshire colleagues he would have with him. The captain is in charge, and it makes sense that he should want to have around him those he knows best.

This is the second time Atherton has captained England in front of his home crowd. The only other Lancastrian to have done so this century was Archie MacLaren, against Australia in 1902 and 1909 (A N Hornby was captain against Australia in 1884).

A selection meeting in those days must have been very different from today. In 1902 the selection committee consisted of Lord Hawke, captain of Yorkshire, G MacGregor, who had played for England in the 1890s, and H W Bainbridge.

The side selected for Old Trafford in 1902 was apparently not at all to MacLaren's liking. George Hirst and Gilbert Jessop were left out and L C H Palairet and Fred Tate, Maurice's father, brought in. When MacLaren, who was not at all an easy man, heard the side he had been given, he threw his hands in the air and exclaimed: "Look what they've given me." It is hard to imagine, though, that his views were completely ignored. In 1901- 02 he went to Australia with England, when the tour party would have been chosen by an MCC committee, and it is clear that MacLaren had his say then.

Sidney Barnes was taken on the tour at the express wish of MacLaren, plucked from the obscurity of the Staffordshire league - one wonders what the modern media would have made of that. Barnes was picked for the first Test, in Sydney, and in Australia's first innings he took 5 for 65 at the start of a career which lasted for 27 Tests in which he took 189 wickets at 16.43 apiece.

That 1902 Test saw Victor Trumper score 100 before lunch on the first day, and Australia, who made 299, gained a first-innings lead of 37 in spite of an innings of 128 by the Honourable F S Jackson. Australia were out for 86 in their second innings, leaving England to score 124 to win .

Fred Tate, playing his only Test match, came in last, with England needing eight runs to win. He hit one four before being bowled, and Australia won a memorable Test by three runs.

In 1909, Lord Hawke, C B Fry and H D G Leveson-Gower formed the distinguished selection committee and this time MacLaren's side drew. The only significant performance was the medium-pace bowling of Frank Laver, who took 8 for 31 in England's first innings, the best figures by an overseas bowler in a Test in England.

In that match the captain had three of his Lancashire players with him - Tyldesley, R H Spooner and J Sharp - and only Tyldesley did not play in the final Test, at The Oval. So even in those days the captains liked to have their own county colleagues around them.