Cricket: Ashes tour - Tudor shows makings of a future king

Promising young fast bowler repays England selectors by displaying willingness to learn
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The Independent Online
POMMIE BASHING is a favourite pastime in Australia whatever the occasion. On an Ashes tour, it can reach epidemic proportions, with Aussies of both sexes sticking the verbal boot in. And yet every so often one of the English players manages to escape the derision and win over the locals. Four years ago, Darren Gough was the chosen one. This time it is Alex Tudor who has managed to corner the small market in affection for the old enemy.

The 21-year-old Tudor, you may recall, was picked in England's tour party to learn. A fast bowler who spent much of last summer nursing a stress fracture of the foot, Tudor was not expected to play much of an active part in the Test series. Fortunately, as tends to happen to most of England's plans, this one got torn up, and Tudor, a quick learner, made an impressive debut in the second Test in Perth.

Primarily a fast bowler, Tudor also impressed with his accuracy and he took five wickets, including the notable scalps of Steve and Mark Waugh. Naturally the pace and steep bounce of the pitch helped, but Tudor never once looked out of place, something that could not be said for many of his team-mates.

"Obviously I was overjoyed to make my debut and chuffed to have Steve Waugh as a first Test wicket," he said as England prepared to leave Perth for Melbourne, where they play Victoria on Saturday. "To be honest, it was a bit of a surprise to me that I was even on the tour. I remember switching on Ceefax, not to see if I was picked, but to see what players did make it. But now I'm here, I didn't come for a holiday."

Being pitched in so soon, the fast bowler did not really have time to get nervous. "I only found out in the morning, so I wasn't too bad. It helped that we batted first, especially as I was able to make a contribution and the runs definitely allowed me to settle. After that I couldn't wait to get the ball in my hand."

In fact, the England captain apart, Tudor looked untroubled during his unbeaten 18, an impression he credits to working hard with Graham Gooch, as well as Mark Ramprakash, a man he refers to as his "own little batting coach".

"So often the tail's footwork has been static," he explains. "So I've been working hard to keep my footwork nimble and my knees bent." But if the tail's contribution with the bat has been a source of contention, it was with the ball that Tudor was always going to be judged.

If the nerves do not paralyse, there is always the temptation for debutants to reach beyond their grasp. Fortunately, Tudor recognised a moment when he was trying to bowl too fast and reined back. But if this showed maturity beyond his experience, there was a moment when when it could have all gone horribly wrong.

Still wicketless, Tudor was asked to take the second new ball into the "Doctor" - the notorious wind that blows at the WACA. Sensing an opportunity to attack, Steve Waugh took three fours off him. It was a calculated assault and many would have been broken by it.

Tudor was not and he retorted not by banging it in short - beloved by many fast bowlers - but by pitching it up. Expecting something else, Waugh's footwork was a mess and the ball nipped back to hit the top of middle and off to give Tudor a memorable first Test scalp.

"There was a time when I would have moaned and effed and blinded over such treatment. But Steve Bull, the team psychologist, has helped me a lot with that. As I now see it I've got lots of balls at my disposal, while the batsman has one mistake before he's back in the pavilion."

There is the makings of a wise young head there, but England have pitched young fast bowlers into Ashes tours before - with mixed results. In 1970- 71, Bob Willis came out as a replacement and made his Test debut, going on to become England's leading strike bowler for the next 14 years. Twelve years later Norman Cowans, bowled quick for four Tests, before settling for medium pace and a career in county cricket.

If ambition plays a key part in shaping destiny, Tudor is more likely to follow the Willis route than the one taken by Cowans.

"I've always wanted to be a fast bowler," he says, candidly admitting that his elder brother, Raymond, was the one with the talent. Five years older, Raymond was also on the Surrey staff before breaking down with a double stress fracture of the back.

Like many children growing up in England, Tudor did not have regular access to cricket at school. "We probably had four or five games a term," recalls Tudor, who went to school in Wandsworth. In fact it was his father's enthusiasm for the game that acted as his main inspiration, and he remembers being taken down to Alf Gover's indoor school with his brother for an hour on Saturday mornings.

"Coming from Barbados, Dad, like most West Indians, knows his stuff. He was good enough when he was younger to be invited to have trials for Barbados. When he moved to England he played for London Transport and the Barbados Cavaliers." Now father, like son, works at the Oval and both he and Tudor's mother are expected here for Christmas.

For a young man Tudor has a reputation as a good listener, and when not picking up tips from England's bowling coach, Bob Cottam, he speaks to his father by phone almost every other day.

"When Dad and his mates get together they talk your ears off about cricket, so I've become used to listening," he says with a chuckle. But if that is fairly untypical of modern youth, the fact that he neither smokes nor drinks, stands him apart.

His role models are the West Indies quicks from the early Eighties, bowlers like Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, and Courtney Walsh. Indeed, he often talks to Walsh and Marshall, hoping for pointers.

Anyone who saw him bowl at the WACA, could not have failed to see there are elements of all these bowlers in him, not least that he is 6ft 5in tall and a strapping 15st. Yet Graham Gooch, wary of the expectations thrust on to young players starting out, is keen to play down any comparisons, at least for the time being.

"He's a young lad and I don't want to go overboard about him," Gooch said. "At the moment he's just clinging to that bottom rung of the Test match ladder. Obviously he's shown good potential and maturity and we're delighted with that. He's worked hard at both his technique and his fitness."

If Gooch is justifiably cautious in his outlook, it still takes a lot to impress an Aussie on his home patch. Ian Chappell, never one to pass round the compliments, said he felt Tudor had the makings of a good fast bowler. Mind you, he also thought, by way of criticism, that the selectors would probably "stick him back in the deep freezer when you get to Adelaide, as they normally do".

He has a point. Horses for courses may be an appropriate motto when you have the riches to follow it, but England are not as blessed as their opponents. In fact when a potential thoroughbred is discovered, and Tudor has the makings, he must be allowed his head in all manner of conditions. Only then will he discover what is needed to win the race.