England in Pakistan 2005-06 October 24, 2005

Loudon looks to shine but it's back to basics for Batty

Cricinfo staff

For youngsters like Alex Loudon, the opportunity to perform has come at the right time... © Getty Images
Alex Loudon, the 25-year-old Warwickshire allrounder, believes England's tour to Pakistan will be a steep incline in his learning curve as an international cricketer. Loudon was selected from the domestic crop to represent his country at the highest level on the back of some commendable performances, and is keen to impress on the tour.

Despite scoring five Championship fifties and claiming 34 victims with his effective offspin, the call-up came as a surprise for Loudon himself. "The day the squad was announced was all pretty extraordinary really," he told BBC Sport. "I was extremely surprised. I am immensely lucky to have been given this opportunity, and I am just looking to contribute and help as much as I can both on and off the field."

It was widely regarded that the English selectors would opt for Gareth Batty, the off spinner who had toured with the side to Sri Lanka and South Africa, as an understudy to Ashley Giles, the premier spinner in the side. Public belief was that Loudon, who averages 32.56 and 38.22 in first-class cricket with the bat and ball respectively, would instead be a part of England A's tour to the West Indies in February.

Loudon has played less than 40 first-class matches, but has obviously impressed the selectors and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, who will be trying to mould players like Loudon into long-term mainstays of the one-day squad. He recently took 6 for 66 against Gloucester as Warwickshire signed off the domestic season with a win, and admits that working on mastering a doosra - the ball that leaves the right handed batsman - was key to his claims of being an effective allrounder.

Much has been said about Loudon's special delivery, but he is quick to clarify that he has a way to go. "It (the doosra) is something I have been working on but it's far from perfected, as is my bowling," he said. "It's a little variation and that's how I view it at the moment, just something that can keep a batsman on his toes every so often."

Critics of the English spin department have seen 36-year old Shaun Udal's selection for Pakistan as highlighting the lack of depth beneath Giles. Batty, who has been on the cusp of selection to the final XI, however, has played down this spin debate. "I don't think we've ever had a Shane Warne - he's a one off, as is Muttiah Muralitharan," he told BBC Sport.

He is currently working at the National Academy and hopes to make a strong comeback. "My year wasn't as good as the three previous years. I'm obviously disappointed but Shaun [Udal] had a fantastic year." On his being overlooked, Batty was undeterred. "They've not discarded me - they've given me an opportunity to work on things that will make me better at the top level."

Batty broke into the England one-day side on the back of a consistent spell at the Academy in 2002-03, and believes that his stints with England have been more than as an understudy to Giles. "Last time I was on the Academy I improved in leaps and bounds," he said. "I was involved with the full side for the period in-between, getting a go and then sitting on the sidelines for a bit and I think I improved then."

...while for others like Owais Shah, the highest run scorer in Championship cricket, it's time to go back to the basics © Getty Images

Like Loudon, Batty has admitted that working on the doosra was one of his goals this winter. "It's still a bit raw but I've got a perfect opportunity here to nail it, maybe have a day where I just bowl it for three hours. I've spoken to Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh about how they've developed different things."

While Loudon's selection did come as a surprise, so was the exclusion of Owais Shah from the touring squad. The Middlesex batsman and the highest run scorer in English first-class cricket in 2005, seems destined to remain on the fringes of the national side. John Emburey, Shah's coach at Middlesex, referred to the batsman's exclusion as "criminal". "He's going to have to bat like Don Bradman to play any better."

Shah, who amassed 1728 runs at 66.46 last season despite a cartilage problem, remains confident of his chances, and cites England's reluctance to alter its Test squad as only to be expected. "Yes, I'm a bit disappointed - why wouldn't I be? But I'm not distraught or anything; it came down to the fact that you wouldn't change a winning team."

Shah now heads to the National Academy for surgery and rehabilitation, and is confident that his seven Championship centuries were not entirely overlooked by the selectors. "For them (the selectors) to put me in the Academy means I'm still in their thoughts. There are other batsmen like Ed Joyce and Rob Key who have had good years so it's unlucky for all three of us."

There remains one aspect that all three cricketers have insisted is the key to selection - consistency with the basics. "First and foremost I'm an off-spinner, and that will not change," Batty has stated with confidence. For Shah, the focus remains batting. "You can always improve your batting. I'll probably look at how I got out this year and try and iron those out." And for Loudon, the plan is to remain consistent on tour. "A player improves most in a game situation, so I am going to be doing my best to get onto the field."