Beefy remake a lost cause

Stephen Brenkley traces England's choices during their quest to find an all-round saviour
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The Independent Online
ALL the headlines screamed that Beefy II had arrived. The main conclusion to be drawn was that roman numerals must be in short supply because Dominic Cork deserved at least a V, or taking into account the more extreme previous claims and premature coronations, an X after his name. Since Beefy I abdicated - and actually during much of his reign too - there has been a desperate search for his successor.

This has sometimes seemed so obsessive that men who took a wicket and hit a four, not necessarily in the same match, were lined up for immediate enthronement as legendary all-rounder and the saviour of English cricket. The road from Beefy I, initally known as Ian Botham, is piled high with pretenders - honest lads who could not possibly hope to compete with what had gone before and stood accused of failure when they did not meet the burden of expectation.

After Don Bradman retired the Australians would unearth the next Don every few years - Norman O'Neill and Doug Walters were two - but that impossible quest pales by comparison with the English version. Descendants of Botham are now presented before us at the rate of one every couple of months, it seems. Any passing stranger would assume that there were more Beefys in England than there is beef in Argentina. Cork's fabulous start to his career, after all, merely puts him into the place occupied barely weeks ago by Darren Gough for deeds of derring-do in Australia. Gough, too, was Beefy II and that also under-estimated his place in the succession by several digits.

The mantle of Botham has touched, with varying force, the likes of Graham Dilley, Graham Stevenson, Derek Pringle, Richard Ellison, David Capel, Chris Lewis, Phil DeFreitas and Craig White. They could not measure up to the job. None of them quite garnered the publicity of Cork because they did not deliver on both fronts. Nevertheless, the expectations were there.

Pringle, now this newspaper's cricket correspondent, was one of several of those who played for England at the same time as Botham. When first summoned in the early Eighties he was batting like a prince for Cambridge University and he missed the Varsity match for his first cap. He was ushered in as a top people's Beefy but for all the unerring accuracy of his bowling he could never live up to that billing. The player - some might say poor sod - who turned out to be in the direct line of succession to the great man was David Capel. Few would doubt that Capel is the best all-rounder in England in 1995, seven years after he first appeared for England. He has made a remarkable return from injury, which blighted his benefit season last year and he is right in the vanguard of his side's attempts to win the County Championship.

Capel returned his career-best bowling figures the other day against Warwickshire, and he has twice this summer improved his highest score. But the Test match figures do not bear comparison. He had a couple of 50s but never had the golden arm of Botham and 21 wickets at more than 50 each meant the end of his attempt to be the new saviour.

Capel seems not to mind. "I played 15 Test matches and I will always be able to look back on them," he said. "It would have been nice to have played more but you don't start regretting things. Being a Northampton lad, playing for the county and then England has been enough for me."

Although it seems difficult to contemplate now, there were all-rounders before Beefy. It only takes a quick flick through the archives to reveal that back in 1912 against Australia a willowy fellow took 10 wickets in the match after scoring 62 on a dodgy pitch. That was Frank Woolley. Had today's rules applied then he might have been hailed as the new Wilfred Rhodes, then still playing.

This was the man who had taken a then world record-equalling 15 wickets and had scored 179 in a world record opening stand, albeit eight years apart, without becoming the peg for a nation's hopes. Neither was Wally Hammond - 7,249 Test runs and 83 wickets at fast medium. Nor Trevor Bailey, who always seemed to be saving Tests for England in the Fifties while sometimes opening the bowling, but never appeared on the front pages with his family.

Mind you, there are all-rounders and all-rounders. Fifty-eight years ago this month a new golden boy was being paraded after scoring a vibrant 65 on his England debut against New Zealand. The following day the papers were full of his many abilities. Denis Compton couldn't bowl much, but the news was that Arsenal, for whom he was about to become a star left- winger, had agreed to release him for the rest of the cricket season. If Compo II was to emerge now, we might feel all the more secure.