Atherton, Stewart and Gough likely to miss India tour
England may tour India later this year without three key players. Michael Atherton, their opening batsman and former captain, is expected to announce his retirement from cricket shortly. England already have plans to replace Atherton, with Michael Vaughan and Mark Butcher both capable of opening.
However it emerged this morning that Alec Stewart and Darren Gough are also planning to miss the tour. "I will not be taking part," 38-year-old Stewart said in his column for The Sunday Times.
"I would prefer to miss the tour, which runs from mid-November to early February, with a three-week break over Christmas and New Year.
"For the first time in my career, I have decided to put my family and myself ahead of my cricket," he added.
Stewart said he was also concerned that if he went to India, the claims made by the Indian bookmaker Mukesh Gupta that the player was paid money on England's last Test there eight years ago - claims since found to have no substance by Paul Condon's anti-corruption unit and the England and Wales Cricket Board - would be "given a fresh airing".
Stewart insisted however he had no plans to retire.
England's management have stipulated that only players who face India in the Test series later this year can be considered for the Tests against the Kiwis in March.
A statement issued today by England's chairman of selectors David Graveney said: "The selectors' approach to this issue has been flexible. 'Test-only' contracts for this winter have been offered to certain senior players in order to allow them to rest from the one-day programme and this offer remains on the table.
"However, the selectors feel it would set a dangerous precedent to allow players to pick and choose which elements of a winter tour they are prepared to undertake."
Graveney said senior players could miss the upcoming series of matches in Zimbabwe, allowing them to rest before undertaking the tour of India.
"Every effort has been made to look after the players' interests with regards to the demands of this winter's schedule and the itinerary for India has been arranged in order to enable the players to spend Christmas at home," he said.
"It is also the selectors' intention to include a number of younger players in the Zimbabwe one-day international squad in order to progress the development of the squad ahead of the next World Cup.
"Senior players not chosen for this trip will therefore have up to 10 weeks rest before the tour to India departs in mid-November."
But fast bowler Gough says he wants no part of the India tour because he is exhausted by England's Ashes Test series defeat against Australia.
"The management and I have agreed to disagree," Gough told The News Of The World newspaper. "I don't see why I can't go to New Zealand for the Tests after missing the India series. They feel differently and they call the shots."
The Sunday Times said the players were furious at the management's refusal to alter their position. With England veteran Michael Atherton about to retire, the management are said to be concerned the squad will be further weakened if Gough and Stewart fail to go to India.
Gough added: "I want to continue to play for England at Test and one-day level through to the next Ashes and World Cup.
"To do that I need a decent break and I've decided to stay at home for the rest of the year. That's my decision.
"It's a simple choice. Do I keep going until I break down or am exhausted? Or do I take a break now in the hope being around for the next 18 months?
"I'm happy to be part of the one-day squad this winter in India and New Zealand. I hope the selectors still want me."