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Selectors must decide with eye on Australia

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

22 August 1998

ENGLAND'S selectors have probably their most important meeting of the year tonight. Their prime duty is to pick a team to win next week's Oval Test against Sri Lanka but they will be failing themselves if they do not use the game to test out a place or two for the tour of Australia, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Equally, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Tim Lamb, will be failing his selectors if he overrules their wish to have the full Ashes party, Alec Stewart and all, in Perth from the outset of the tour of Australia, despite the clash with the ICC's tournament in Bangladesh during the last week in October.

There has been much politicking behind the scenes over this and Lamb's equivocal public position - he recognises the importance of the Ashes but his public statements have hinted that Bangladesh should take priority - is understandable. The ICC tournament in Dacca is due to make millions of pounds for an important cause - the development of cricket round the world and the planned expansion into areas it has not yet reached.

That all nine Test-playing countries have agreed to enter a side gives it a certain cachet. But it is just another one-day tournament of the kind which, thanks to the ICC's past weakness and the greed of a few businessmen who have exploited the genre for their own gain, has become commonplace. The coinage is devalued and if Alec Stewart's presence is deemed to be essential to the commercial success - which it surely is not - the clash of dates and interests should have been avoided. All that matters is that nine more-or-less representative sides take part.

This week's triangular tournament has shown that no one knows what the best England one-day side is anyway - it would certainly be a different squad on a slow mud pitch in Bangladesh from a grassy one at Headingley - and the selectors could name at least two sides with a virtually equal chance. When it comes to preparing for the hardest of all Test tours, that is not the case.

The light, the hardness of the pitches and even the aggression of the native cricketers are all different and the priority must be to give every member of the main touring team the full period of net practice and an equal chance to play in the opening first-class match against Western Australia at the WACA, where the second Test will be played only four weeks later.

It is the imminence of the tour to Australia which makes tonight's meeting between David Graveney, Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and Alec Stewart so significant. England have won two Test matches in a row with the same 11 players and it is important to try to maintain momentum, but the game starting next Thursday has to be seen in the wider light of a tour starting only four and a half weeks after the season has ended on 20 Sept.

The team for Australia, plus an A side to Zimbabwe and South Africa and the one-day party for Bangladesh are all to be announced on Tuesday week, a day after the Oval Test ends.

The three relative non-achievers at Trent Bridge and Headingley, Graeme Hick, Andrew Flintoff and Ian Salisbury will cause most debate this evening, along with a reserve for Nasser Hussain, who damaged a groin muscle at Lord's on Thursday.

These are three different cases. The selectors' inclination will be to stick with Hick and Salisbury, to replace Flintoff with Ben Hollioake and to have a good player of spin, either Nick Knight or John Crawley, as Hussain's reserve. Mine would be to argue that Salisbury should have one more chance to prove that he can fulfill his talent, and that Flintoff needs to play another Test if a proper assessment is to be made.

Against a Sri Lankan side whose strength lies in batting it would be a reasonable gamble to promote Flintoff to six (because of the use of a nightwatchman he has twice gone in at eight) and to augment an attack of Gough, Fraser, Cork and Salisbury with Ed Giddins.

The logic is clear: the selectors need to know more about Giddins, Flintoff and, to a lesser extent, Salisbury. They already know that Ben Hollioake is a genuine all-rounder, likely to go to Australia despite taking so long to find his form this season (to introduce Darren Maddy or Mal Loye at this stage would be unfair to them). In the spin department they know all about Robert Croft, a fair amount about Ashley Giles and also that Phil Tufnell has only once come close to winning a match for England in Australia.

In the other two cases, they already know what Hick, Crawley, Knight, Mullally, Headley, Caddick, Silverwood and others can do but they have to decide who should be the extra batsman in Australia and who should join Mullally, Fraser, Gough and Cork as the fifth fast bowler.

My 11 for the Oval would be: Atherton, Butcher, Hussain (Hick to bat three if he is not fit) Stewart, Ramprakash, Flintoff, Cork, Salisbury, Gough, Fraser and Giddins. A more likely 13 is: Atherton, Butcher, Hussain (Knight), Stewart, Ramprakash, Hick, B Hollioake, Cork, Salisbury, Gough, Fraser, Mullally.

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Date-stamped : 22 Aug1998 - 10:30