Counties in no mood for revolution

ASHES AFTERMATH: Is English cricket terminally ill or merely slightly o ff colour? Derek Hodgson canvasses opinion
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In Latin the phrase is post nubila phoebus but in clumsier modern English it reads "the darkest hour is that before the dawn". Mike Atherton's parting words from Perth were "English cricket is not all about gloom and doom" and a survey of some of county cricket's movers and shakers, the men at the grass roots of the first-class game, reinforced that idea.

Norman Gifford, the former Worcestershire, Sussex and England slow bowler is now Sussex's cricket manager. He is recognised as an outstanding coach and was recently credited with Richard Stemp's advance, by altering his approach and delivery, on the England A tour to India.

"If England had been able to select from their full strength in all five Tests the result would have been much closer," he said. "We won in Adelaide and if we had held our catches in Perth we might have needed to score 150 to 170 in the last innings, a feasible target.

"Much of the trouble seem to revolve around our middle to late order. Normally you can always rely on Steve Rhodes to get you runs at seven or eight. With Rhodes out of form and Craig White, who was giving us a bit of steel, gone, the Australians were soon into the tail. Darren Gough's early departure also weakened us in that area.

"Young stars are coming. It is a fact, both in the counties and at national level, that an enormous amount of work and effort is going in that direction, many times that of six or seven years ago.We are already considering whether there should be more national competition at under-17 or under-18 level. It may be that the younger lads need more incentive, more publicity, matches on TV, a final at Lord's.

"As to the next England team, I am not privy to the tour reports which will influence Raymond [Illingworth] and the selectors. Atherton has made it plain he wants younger players but I expect the first England team to be not far away from Atherton, Stewart, Hick, Smith, Thorpe, Ramprakash, White or Lewis, Russell or Metson, Gough, DeFreitas, Fraser, Such or Tufnell, and Malcolm, depending on form, fitness and conditions.

"If that squad fails then there is emerging young talent: Cork, Gallian, Hemp, Ilott, Knight, Chapple. In fact the England attack might be opened, before very long, by Gough and Chapple, a new Trueman-Statham combination."

The whole structure of English cricket, considering England's dismal recent record, has been under sustained critical bombardment. Bob Appleyard, the former Yorkshire and England bowler and a highly successful businessman before his retirement, first sold the idea of a Cricket Academy to Yorkshire: "It's been obvious for some time that English cricket needed to be properly organised in order to compete.

"I'm not against the amateur spirit and enjoyed playing under amateur captains buit it's vital that the administration should be thoroughly professional and that first-class clubs should be run by first-class people. You will note that the coaches at theAustralian Academy are people like Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh.

"I'm not sure that one English Academy is the answer. We have so many more players than the Australians and I would advocate regional academies, perhaps four, with a top-class coach in each skill, the county clubs in that area to be responsible"

Steve Coverdale, Northamptonshire's chief executive and one of the game's leading young administrators, kept wicket for Cambridge University and Yorkshire: "Every time England have a bad patch there is an instant demand for the demolition of everything below the Test team. My attitude, reactionary or not, is leave well alone.

"What we should be looking more closely at is attitude, opportunity, coaching. As to possible structural changes, I cannot go along with two divisions and not only out of self interest.

"When is the cut-off point? At the end of 1993 Warwickshire would have been in the Second Division. If you wait for the last match of the season, football style, what happens if one county is rained off at Scarborough or Chester-le-Street and the other wins at Hove?

"I am fearful that, over a period of time, those counties unable to get out of the Second Division would inevitably fall by the wayside"

And attitudes? "Over the last decade we have made some mediocre decisions. When there have been suggestions to make the game harder, tougher, we have backed off, especially over pitches. I wouldn't go all the way for uncovered pitches - although there isan increasing lobby - but we do need to give the bowlers more assistance and examine our batsmen.

"Nor do we play enough first-class cricket. There are fewer opportunities now for young batsmen than there were 10 years ago and I don't agree with this idea that the fewer the innings the harder a batsman will try. A player having 40 first-class inningsa season must benefit more than one having 25.

"Yes, it boils down to less one-day cricket on bland batting surfaces".

Geoff Cook opened the batting for Northamptonshire and England and is now Durham's Director of Cricket: "It's true that players have a slightly different attitude to those of my time, a different raison d'etre. Cricket is no longer paramount in their lives.

"Alterations to the Championship system, two divisions, etc, seem too simplistic. Perhaps we have to concentrate on those kids who will roll up their sleeves and fight. If we can change the mentality of the county cricketer we shall make it easier for him to bridge the gap to Test cricket. That said, I do believe we now have the nucleus of a successful Test side and I am expecting an early promotion for Glen Chapple of Lancashire. I believe he has all the credentials of another Gus Fraser."

Our straw poll produced 26 names for the first England 12 to face the West Indies at Headingley on 8 June. Five of the original tourists to Australia were not included: Gooch, Gatting (obviously), Rhodes, Joey Benjamin and, surprisingly, John Crawley who, it was felt, like Mark Lathwell, had been pushed too soon. The young player most favoured to emerge next was Chapple.