Cricket: Brought down by the old fear of winning

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The Independent Online
The old-timers used to get on with it and win when the chance was there. The modern generation of cricketers find the art of winning a more complicated business. So often, and when they are playing for England in particular, they seem to panic, or freeze in the final run-in.

The dressing-room becomes more and more packed with sporting psychologists, physiotherapists, fitness advisers, bowling coaches, batting coaches and press liaison officers. The last few days have even seen the arrival of sports leading spiritual adviser, the Rev Andrew Wingfield Digby.

England had so much the better of the match in the first three days that it looked as if they could not avoid winning. They lost their last six wickets for 39 on the fourth morning, but that hardly seemed more than a minor blip, especially when the West Indies were 124 for 5 in their second innings needing 158 more to win.

From then on it was all too sadly familiar. When wickets stopped falling, tension crept in and players seemed to make that age-old mistake of trying too hard. At the same time their thinking became either muddle-headed, or went on the back burner.

They had got where they had almost entirely because one bowler, Angus Fraser, had remembered the sacrosanct first principles of his job. For over after over he bowled length and line, while trying to cut the ball off the pitch in his usual way. These methods brought him 11 wickets.

There were no flourishes, or crafty tit-bits unless you can describe the slow full toss which accounted for Curtly Ambrose in the first innings as one such. Fraser modestly explained this by saying that by the middle of his approach he had lost his run-up, but had decided to go on with it although he did not have the slightest idea what would happen to the ball.

The others should have read, marked, learned and inwardly digested. Instead, Dean Headley was hooked, cut and driven, while Andy Caddick was driven and played away through the leg side. The pressure of winning had destroyed their control.

Phil Tufnell is another who let the situation get to him. Certainly the pitch had eased, but all that was required from him was not variety but metronomic accuracy. It was never there.

Then there was the sad story of Jack Russell's 50th Test match. This was an awkward pitch for wicketkeepers with the ball bouncing nastily and often bouncing twice when they were standing back. Even so, his glove work was most untidy and in the penultimate over he let a ball from Fraser through his fingers. It hit one of the two crash helmets sitting on the ground behind him, the automatic penalty for which is five runs.

England seemed frightened of winning this match and by the end their fears had reduced them to impotence.

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