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Specialists get call to build on success of 'Team England'

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

12 August 1998

A SIGNIFICANT change of policy lies behind the selection of 14 players for England's triangular tournament of 50-over internationals against South Africa and Sri Lanka, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

All-rounders like Chris Lewis, Andrew Flintoff, Ben Hollioake and Matthew Fleming are out; specialist batsmen and bowlers like Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Angus Fraser and Alan Mullally are in.

England's first match is against Sri Lanka on Sunday at Lord's after South Africa have tested their resilience, following their disappointment at Headingley, by taking on the world one-day champions at Trent Bridge on Friday.

Mullally's inclusion despite being omitted from the 37 players short-listed by the selectors for the various one-day engagements this winter has much to do with his match-winning NatWest quarter-final performance of five for 18 against Warwickshire, when Lewis also took wickets but unwisely also made a public criticism of the selectors. Martin Bicknell seems to me to be the bowler who should feel aggrieved this time, but Mullally's economy rate of 4.18 in eight previous internationals is better than most, quite apart from his form, so it was his omission from the original list which was the real surprise.

No more, however, than the one-day recall of Graeme Hick, ahead of Chris Adams and Darren Maddy, who have both had prolific one-day seasons and played in the Texaco matches. The alternative was to have a look at the leading batsman in county cricket, Malachy Loye of Northamptonshire, who is averaging 93 and contemplating leaving for a higher profile county. David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said on Radio Five last week that, given no serious loss of form, Loye would find a place in one of the various winter touring parties.

Large sections of England's cricket followers do not share the selectors' faith in Hick. He was left out of the Texaco Trophy matches against South Africa at the start of this season, having averaged only 19 in five internationals in the West Indies, batting at three and four with plenty of chance to make a substantial impact. Hick is often a devastating batsman but his two one-day international hundreds were both scored on flat, slow pitches on the Indian subcontinent, against India and Holland.

Two bits-and-pieces all-rounders remain: Mark Ealham, whose record is good, and Adam Hollioake, who will surely be England's captain again for the ICC tournament in Bangladesh in October when Alec Stewart's priority must be the first two matches of England's tour of Australia.

Stewart is likely to bat at three in the triangular, with Ali Brown and Nick Knight continuing their promising aggressive opening partnership unless any of the pitches look damp, in which case, Graveney said yesterday: ``It'll be good to have the option of Michael Atherton's experience around.''

Atherton averages 34 from his 53 one-day internationals and both his hundreds have been scored in England. He desperately wants to be a part of next year's World Cup campaign. So do Darren Gough and Angus Fraser, though the selectors want to nurse them both a bit so they are fresh for the last Test of the summer, against Sri Lanka, starting at the Oval a fortnight tomorrow. Fraser has a sore back after his exertions at Leeds, but Peter Martin is a reliable deputy.

England's matches next week - they will play three in six days if they reach the final at Lord's on Thursday - are being seen as a dress rehearsal for World Cup 99, as the ECB and the ICC are billing it. One of the main World Cup sponsors, Emirates Airlines, have put up 15,000 and a trophy.

England are lucky to have a longer break than the South Africans, if only to give them time to enjoy the satisfaction of a tough Test series worthily won. To an extent that has been a reward for the changes made by David Lloyd when he became coach two years ago and for his passionate determination to find players with the mental toughness without which no one can succeed in Test cricket. He has, he says, always believed in his players; the hard part has been to get them truly to believe in themselves.

``There's no room for iffy characters,'' he said. ``We've got to have strong men who will accept the responsibility, absorb presssure and dish out pressure. When you pick them you know damn well they can play, but you need something more. In modern jargon: bottle, heart, pride, passion.''

Graveney, his co-selectors, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, and Lloyd have been the men behind England's success against South Africa, along with the three senior batsmen, Stewart, Atherton and Hussain. Lloyd said of Stewart yesterday: ``He's as hard as nails but I like to think he plays the game in the best traditions.''

He had praise, too, for 'Team England'. ``I'd acknowledge the specialist coaches - Cottam, Knott, Gooch - the physio, Wayne Morton, the fitness trainer, Dean Riddle, the sports psychologist, Stephen Bull, the video system which enables our technical man, Nick Slade, to pull up examples of a technical point within a minute, and the admin support from Meda Laud and Simon Pack at Lord's. It's an absolute boon to me that they are already planning for Australia and the World Cup.''

The ECB, under the MacLaurin/Lamb axis, have had their critics for spending so much on the salaries of so many new appointments at the centre of the game. But the win at Headingley and all that might flow from it showed the wisdom of putting England first. The duty now is to fine tune the system which produces England players, without dismantling it.

The Squad

Player Age Cap * - A J Stewart (Surrey) 35 102

M A Atherton (Lancs) 30 53

A D Brown (Surrey) 28 9

R D B Croft (Glamorgan) 28 26

M A Ealham (Kent) 28 17

A R C Fraser (Middx) 33 37

A F Giles (Warwicks) 25 2

D Gough (Yorks) 27 41

G A Hick (Worcs) 32 71

A J Hollioake (Surrey) 26 17

N Hussain (Essex) 30 15

N V Knight (Warwicks) 28 24

P J Martin (Lancs) 29 16

A D Mullally (Leics) 29 8

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Date-stamped : 12 Aug1998 - 10:36