Campbell attacks English attitudes

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The Independent Online
The weather may have settled it but it was the Zimbabwe captain, Alistair Campbell, who defiantly had the last say as this series finally spluttered to a draw after the last day's play was abandoned at lunch without a ball being bowled. Responding to claims by his opposite number, that England would have run out winners had both games been uninterrupted by rain, Campbell felt his opponents were "clutching at thin air''.

"It's been one of the easier series for us," he said afterwards. "I really don't think there's that much between ourselves, New Zealand and England." He emphasised the point when he named the England players - Stewart (to bat only), Knight, Gough, Croft and Crawley - who he felt might on current form get a game for Zimbabwe. Their captain also pointed out they are probably only currently bottom-rated among Test teams because of their constant visits to the subcontinent, a place where few travel well.

For England, it was damnation with the faintest hint of praise and Campbell was clearly miffed when he delivered his verdict. What has clearly irked the home side most however - judging by the number of times Campbell repeated the phrase - were the claims made by David "We flippin' murdered 'em" Lloyd, in the aftermath of the drawn Bulawayo Test.

"To keep saying they outplayed us is an astounding claim,'' Campbell ranted. "Why can't they shrug off their superiority complex and just accept that we've matched them. It's monotonous to hear them keep saying that they've murdered us and a little bit of credit wouldn't go astray." He has a point and England have been notoriously glum in applauding opponents over recent series.

However, as is nearly always the case, the truth is out there lying somewhere between the polar opposites of propaganda now churned out as a matter of course by most cricket teams.

That said, it has been England who have had the better chances of winning this series, although it was more by opportunism than consistently superior cricket, the likes of which Australia would have played had they been here instead of reviving old enemies in Melbourne.

Unlike the Australians, whose superiority complex is deep-seated and utterly unquestioned, ours comes in spurts, usually at home. There familiarity seems to breed contentment rather than the apathy that appears to set in abroad - an affliction that weakens resolve and one that is often caused by the numbing routine endemic to most long tours.

Interestingly, one player described his experience of the current tour, as being like that of the television reporter in Groundhog Day. This is a film where one man's dull day in a hick American town is replayed over and over until he is able to avoid all the pitfalls that befell him on that original first day.

Unfortunately, that has not quite been the experience of the majority of England's players here, who, unlike the Dan Ackroyd character in the film, have struggled to come to terms with the repetitive slowness of the pitches and the wearying monotony of rain-drenched cricket grounds.

It is a point amplified by England's pathetic batting in the first innings of the last Test at Harare Sports Club, a performance that was simply unprofessional, given that it was their fourth encounter on that turgid surface.

England's main problem is that they are erratic, too often basing half- baked strategies upon sandy foundations. Atherton, like his predecessor Gooch, tends to lead by inspiration and perspiration, rather than force of personality. It is a method that is over-dependent upon the immediate form of the captain, which as we know - apart from the West Indies series of 1991 - is about the direst of Atherton's career.

When England have failed in the past, it was invariably because Atherton, a monolith of defiance, had failed too. Now that he cannot even get started (he scored 34 runs in four Test innings) his team are listing in seas where even the minnows like Zimbabwe have sharp teeth.

It would be unfair to dwell solely on the negatives of a Test series that was over before it really got going. By the same token, neither can positives be given the usual kite mark of approval without some misgivings about the strength of the opposition. Zimbabwe's bowling, with Paul Strang, is substantially better than their batting.

With that in mind, England can take heart from the maturing composure of John Crawley, who was the only batsman to remain unperturbed by the sluggish nature of the pitches - no mean feat when you play most of your county matches on one of the truest and quickest surfaces in England at Old Trafford.

Other assets emerged, too, such as Robert Croft, a competitor as well as an off-spinner likely to delight as many east as west of the Severn bridge. His bristling combative qualities were shared by the likes of Darren Gough, Nick Knight and Nasser Hussain, as well as by old stagers like Alec Stewart.

It is eight years since England last drew a series abroad and even that was in New Zealand, their next opponents and the only overseas side England have beaten over a series since Mike Gatting retained the Ashes 10 years ago. If that urn is to return next summer, England must first convince a growing legion of sceptics and win well in New Zealand.

SECOND TEST (Harare): England 156 (G J Whittall 4-18, H H Streak 4-43) and 195 for 3 (A J Stewart 101no, G P Thorpe 50no) v Zimbabwe 215 (G W Flower 73, D Gough 4-40). Match drawn.

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