Cricket: A team to feed the world

Stephen Brenkley says that England are bringing the best out of everyone they play
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The Independent Online
Most of the glory might have gone to Danny Morrison after his last-wicket heroics in the First Test in Auckland last week but he could not entirely expunge the resonant name of Blair Pocock from the minds of many long-suffering followers of England's misfortunes.

In his seventh Test match the dogged but dull New Zealand opening batsman scored his maiden half-century, having failed previously to get beyond 34. He went on to reach 70 and joined what seemed like an interminable line of modern Test cricketers who have produced their career-best performances against England.

When Pocock's colleague Stephen Fleming compiled a delightfully assured 129, his first century in his 23rd Test, it appeared merely to confirm the suspicion. As each of his flowing upright drives peppered the Auckland boundary fence it was as though Fleming must have been saving it all up for England. (Whatever the impression, incidentally, this was not Morrison's highest Test score.)

With a side in England's state, presumably all opposition members realise that if they stay in the team their time will inevitably arrive. Fleming, who will now doubtless proceed to an illustrious career, is not the first to be launched by the mother country (like Steve Waugh, who came here with the Australians in 1989 after 26 Tests without a hundred, had an average below 30 and went out at Headingley to hit a majestic, unbeaten 177) but for now still takes his place in the World XI with career bests against England.

Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Saurav Ganguly and Greg Blewett all scored their maiden Test hundreds against England, and the latter two await higher scores, as does Mark Taylor, who got 219 back in 1989. The bowling was fairly ordinary that day so plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, there then.

Nor does this peak of performance apply only to batsmen. Venkatesh Prasad came unknown to England last summer and in his second Test returned his first five-wicket analysis. Down the years the most unlikely figures have conspired to capture English wickets. Remember, for example, Mudassar Nazar, a batting all-rounder, who took a breathtaking six for 32 to win the match for Pakistan at Lord's in 1982. Or Dion Nash, who very nearly did likewise for New Zealand at the famous old ground in 1994 and whose six for 76 remains his career best.

"It's not as though we only restrict it to individuals," said Rob Eastaway, one of the compilers of the Coopers and Lybrand ratings and the author of the slim but definitive volume explaining elementary things about cricket, What IS a Googly?, which surely soon will be a compulsory part of the England players' kit.

"England help to revive whole teams. Think of the tour to India back in early 1993. India were on the floor until England arrived and then won the series 3-0," Eastaway said.

Well, all right, you can do anything with figures. Still, of the top 10 batsman in the C and L table, four - Brian Lara, Saeed Anwar, Mark Waugh and Inzamam-ul-Haq - have made their top score against England.

Only three of the top 10 bowlers have done likewise: the Australian Paul Reiffel, who has still not improved his six for 71 in England, and two greats who have bowled out all sorts of teams but nevertheless have saved their very best for dear old Albion, Curtly Ambrose (eight for 45) and Shane Warne (eight for 71). And Craig McDermott who retired this week, and thus just gets in our XI, never did better than his eight for 97 in 1991.

So here it is, a world squad of 12 whose best performances in Tests have been against England (oh, excluding Blair Pocock)...

Mark Taylor (Aus) 219, Trent Bridge, 1989

Saeed Anwar (Pak) 176, The Oval,'96

Brian Lara (WI) 375, Antigua, '94

Mark Waugh (Aus) 140, Brisbane, '94-5

Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pak) 148, Lord's, '96

Stephen Fleming (NZ) 129, Auckland, '97

Saurav Ganguly (Ind) 131, Lord's, '96

Ian Healy(Aus) 9 victims, Brisbane, '94-5

Shane Warne (Aus) 8-71, Brisbane, '94-5

Curtly Ambrose (WI) 8-45, Barbados, '90

Craig McDermott (Aus) 8-97, Perth, '90-1

Paul Reiffel (Aus) 6-71, Edgbaston, '93