When Illingworth talks about selfishness and dying for one's country he is using a language the players don't understand

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The Independent Online
Last week Raymond Illingworth was talking about sorting out the players who just want to do well for themselves from those who would die for their country. When Nick Knight left the field on a stretcher, the remark looked a little close to the bone. When Knight returned in one piece, and Richard Illingworth saw England to safety with a broken finger, Illy Snr doubtless felt that his point had been proved.

In fact it had been half-proved. Illy Jnr had been brave and steadfast, but he hadn't actually been unselfish. His innings enhanced his reputation, and with it his chances of going to South Africa and the World Cup. Half the point of cricket is that it is both an individual game and a team one.

Illy Snr had made his point without naming names. So the tabloids did some speculating, and pointed the finger at Graeme Hick. Some chairmen of selectors would have hotly denied having any in mind. Illy, whose candour is on a par with younger members of the royal family, confirmed it, saying: "Only Graeme himself really knows whether he wants to do better for himself or for the team."

Hick was reportedly "nonplussed" by this. As well he might be. There is not much scope for selfishness in professional cricket. There is no equivalent of the dilemma faced regularly by forwards in football, or backs in rugby - should I pass or should I score?

It's true that you can nick the strike when the batting is easy, or avoid it when the going gets tough. But that means taking quick singles, which Hick, with his stiff hands, doesn't do enough. You can play for a personal milestone or your average when you should be hitting out for a declaration.

Hick may have been guilty of this in Sydney last January, but he surely suffered enough by being left 98 not out. And let's face it, declarations play little part in England's game - that was one of only three such situations in Hick's 36-match career. (Interestingly, Hick has got at least 50 each time. Perhaps he should always go out with instructions to step on it).

Only one England player of modern times has had a reputation for selfishness. He was an automatic selection throughout Ray lllingworth's captaincy, and although they had their differences later, he is believed to have been Illy's first choice for the post of batting coach this year. In Geoff Boycott's case, Illy decided that runs counted for more than altruism. If he hadn't, Boycott would not have averaged 93 in Australia in 1970- 71, England would probably not have won the Ashes and Illingworth himself would not be regarded as a great captain.

This is not to belittle Illingworth's powers of motivation. Twice this summer he has vented his annoyance with senior players who were not getting runs, and the results - 61 and 98 from Robin Smith at Lord's and 118 from Hick at Trent Bridge - suggest that the method makes up in effectiveness what it lacks in subtlety. But when he talks about selfishness and dying for your country, he is speaking a language today's players do not understand.

He is also obscuring the real issue, which is: who are the 11 players in England most likely to do well against West lndies? This week of all weeks, that is the question.

Here we are, a game away from winning the Wisden trophy for the first time since 1969. The circumstances are not unprecedented (in 1989-90 it was all square with one to play, but the final Test began two days after the previous one had been lost, and you didn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing). But they are exceptional and they call for an exceptional reaction.

The selectors have already made their first mistake. They will pick the squad on Saturday. Why not today? The only reason to wait is because they usually do, which is not a reason at all, or because they want to see who is fit, which, these days is seldom certain before the start of play (England's two century-makers at Trent Bridge, Atherton and Hick, were both doubtful the day before).

If the squad had been named today, the players could have been released by their counties from both matches this weekend. Every Test held at home is in effect a benefit match for the counties. They now have the perfect opportunity to express their thanks. As it is, enlightened counties, like Lancashire will do so, while the rest keep their heads in the sand.

So who to pick? Not Craig White, who has devised a sad new version of the Nelson (1, 1, 1). Not John Crawley - this is no time for looking to the future. Not Illingworth or Knight, for obvious reasons. So four recruits are needed.

The lesson of the summer is that young batsmen don't trouble Caribbean bowlers. In 17 completed innings, Ramprakash, Gallian, Knight, White and Crawley have amassed 192 runs. In the same number of innings, the non-specialists Russell, Watkinson, Cork and Gough have scored 476. So Crawley's place must go to an old sweat - Gooch or Lamb. Knight's can go back to Stewart, strictly as a batsman. For White read Fairbrother if you want a cool head and a fine fielder, or Capel, if you want a cool head and a swing bowler. For Richard Illingworth, read Malcolm, who may now be as angry with the selectors as he was this time last year with the South Africans.