Young and old on trial for England

Derek Pringle on a match packed with cricketers who have plenty to prove to the watching selectors at Chelmsford
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It might not quite be the quorum needed to select an England team, but at least Raymond Illingworth will make an early acquaintance with two of his most recently elected selectors at Chelmsford today, where England A, who performed so well last winter in Pakistan, begin a four-day match against the Rest: a team captained by Jack Russell and culled mainly from England players, with one or two young county hopefuls in its ranks.

The match - the first curtain raiser of the season proper, despite the traditional, yet low key goings on at Old Trafford - is the latest incarnation of the old MCC versus Champion county of yore. A fixture thought to have lost its public appeal, hence the change. Who said that English cricket is totally devoid of progressive ideas?

The match echoes the old Test trials, which ended in 1976 apparently due to, among other things, the players not taking them seriously enough. During one match, John Snow apparently alternated bowling overs of off- breaks with overs of bouncers to Geoff Boycott.

However, following another dismal winter, only a handful of England players can be certain of selection for the first Test and effort, unlike the April weather, is the one thing that should virtually be guaranteed.

It is a point made by Nasser Hussain, England A's captain and one of several players likely to be pushing hard for a place this summer. "I'm really looking forward to it," he said yesterday. "With all but one of the selectors there, it is a great chance to stake an early claim, whoever you are."

Unfortunately one player who will not be doing so is Dean Headley, who has been forced to withdraw with an injured hip. Headley was undoubtedly the A team's find of the winter, after taking 17 wickets in three "Tests" against Pakistan. No replacement is being called into the squad and Hussain will probably be allowed one of the Rest's three left-arm seamers in an attempt to balance his side. Of these, Mark Ilott is the best known but the most injury prone, while Jason Lewry topped last season's bowling averages at Sussex.

More mysterious still - until it was discovered that Ray Illingworth had picked both sides - is Paul Hutchison, an 18-year-old graduate of Yorkshire's Cricket Academy, who has played just a handful of games for the Yorkshire second team.

With the pitch firm and tinged with green, all the seamers, which include Tim Munton and Ed Giddins for the A team and Glenn Chapple for the Rest, are likely to be employed, presumably at the expense of one of the four spinners, none of whom had outstanding winters.

Competition between the batsmen will be even more intense. Of those on display, only Graham Thorpe can be certain of being picked for the first Test, while Nick Knight and Jason Pooley will want to show Lancashire's John Crawley and Jason Gallian that they can be equally adept at catching the selectorial gaze.

In the past, England have often been criticised for continuing to pick players past their sell- by date and Martyn Moxon, soon to be 36, is clearly a surprise choice. Not so his county team-mate, Tony McGrath, who replaced Moxon as Yorkshire's opener when the latter broke his thumb.

After a successful winter in Pakistan, it will be the extent of the younger man's desire to eclipse Moxon during four days that will will serve as an indicator as to whether or not English cricket is ready to move forward.

ENGLAND A: N V Knight (Warwickshire), A McGrath (Yorkshire), N Hussain (Essex, capt), D P Ostler (Warwickshire), J C Pooley (Middlesex), R C Irani (Essex), K J Piper (Warwickshire, wkt), I D K Salisbury (Sussex), R D Stemp (Yorkshire), T A Munton (Warwickshire), E S H Giddins (Sussex).

THE REST: M D Moxon (Yorkshire), J E R Gallian (Lancashire), J P Crawley (Lancashire), G P Thorpe (Surrey), M R Ramprakash (Middlesex), R J Russell (Gloucestershire, capt, wkt), M E Watkinson (Lancashire), R K Illingworth (Worcestershire), M C Ilott (Essex), G Chapple (Lancashire), J D Lewry (Sussex), P M Hutchison (Yorkshire).

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