Cricket: Butcher forgets the form formula

Opener's struggles, sluggish pitch and strokeless England condemn Cairns to a painful day in the sun
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IF BEING considered a nation of shopkeepers wasn't damning enough, England's cricketers have managed to set a new standard for dullness. Before Geoffrey Boycott took up a racier lifestyle, blocking tended to be an art form practised by batsmen with little or no imagination. Against the Queensland Bulls, the whole England side appeared to be afflicted as they dead-batted for the entire second day, their total of 182 for 7 coming at less than two runs per over.

Ordinarily, especially in this part of the world, such sloth would have been close to bringing the game into disrepute. Although conditions were less than ideal - a sluggish outfield surrounding an even more pedestrian pitch - England still scarcely played a shot in anger.

With such widespread reticence the Queensland bowlers, especially the two spinners, were flattered well beyond their capabilities. Indeed, Adam Dale, a medium pacer of a type found throughout county cricket, finished the day with figures of 5 for 31. "I know the cricket hasn't exactly been free flowing," Alec Stewart said, "but the pitch is one of the lowest and slowest I've ever played on."

Despite the "untypical" nature of the surface Stewart, along with Mark Butcher, still needed to spend time at the crease. In the event he succeeded where his brother-in-law failed so England's day, unlike that of the 2,000 spectators, was not entirely wasted. "It was nice to spend three hours at the crease. I can't say I was overly concerned about my lack of runs, you can get low scores any time. I thought fifty on that kind of surface was a pretty good effort," Stewart said.

Of Butcher's travails he said: "He's missed out in three innings. Although he's hitting the ball well in the nets, it's out in the middle that counts and ideally he should have had a score by now."

Butcher, whose dismissal followed Michael Atherton's in the second over of the innings, was bowled by Dale. While Atherton was slightly unfortunate, an inside edge on to his pad carrying obligingly to Ian Healy, Butcher's downfall came from a misjudgement as he groped a little tentatively down the wrong line.

When he was playing well against South Africa last summer, Butcher was letting the ball come to him. Here, as is so often the case when form departs, he was feeling for it without the accompanying foot movement. This is a method you can get away with at the Oval, but not on plasticine surfaces like the one here.

While Butcher buried his disappointment in a book, Nasser Hussain, still seething after being left out of England's one-day squad, tried to take his frustrations out by taking up squatting rights at the crease.

Adding a hundred for the third wicket with Stewart, Hussain, who has been in decent fettle, must have been in danger of batting himself to a standstill. Fortunately - although Hussain is unlikely to have seen it that way - he was erroneously given out off his elbow for a protracted 40, before he had a chance to lose his touch completely in the stifling heat.

It is easy to become prey to conspiracy theories in Australia, but playing this match here is unlikely to be part of any deliberate dirty tricks campaign. Mind you, keeping England away from the Gabba would certainly have been intentional and England will find the surface there vastly different to the one here.

Having been one of the few who could claim to have mastered the conditions Stewart, his trademark clips and cuts grooved once more, was suddenly lbw to Dale.

An accurate bowler, Dale has played a single Test for Australia, in which he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar. A chronic asthmatic, Dale has also played 14 one-day internationals. But, although he has now faded from contention, his testing line and length and occasional swing were good enough for England and he won two more lbw decisions.

One of them was John Crawley, whose 27 from 112 balls made everyone else's efforts seem frenetic. Here as a possible opener, Crawley showed the broadest of bats before being deceived by a clever slower ball. Despite the sapping conditions, which matched those on the first day, the umpires still found the energy to raise their fingers. In some ways, the decisions served a purpose and it kept those in the marquees from seeking alternative entertainment elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, the umpire's altruism wasn't always shared by England's batsmen. Robert Croft, whose three-wicket haul in Queensland's first innings was matched by Darren Gough, was another lbw victim.

Mark Ramprakash was similarly fingered, though he was unlucky to be given out when trying to sweep the left-arm spin of Paul Jackson, who had not threatened to turn a ball from around the wicket.


Second day of four; England won toss

Queensland - First Innings

(Overnight: 193-8)

M L Hayden retd hurt 0

D I Foley c Hussain b Gough 71

M S Kasprowicz not out 6

Extras (b2 lb3 w1 nb9) 15

Total (86.4 overs) 209

Fall: 1-9 2-36 3-61 4-69 5-159 6-180 7-184 8-185 9-209.

Bowling: Gough 17.4-4-41-3; Cork 14-1-34-1; Headley 15-7-33-1; Mullally 17-3-40-1; Croft 22-6-56-3; Ramprakash 1-1-0-0.

England - First Innings

M A Butcher b Dale 2

M A Atherton c Healy b Dale 0

N Hussain c Love b Bichel 40

*A J Stewart lbw b Dale 52

J P Crawley lbw b Dale 27

M R Ramprakash lbw b Jackson 16

D G Cork not out 23

R D B Croft lbw b Dale 0

D Gough not out 2

Extras (b1 lb5 w1 nb13) 20

Total (for 7, 93 overs) 182

Fall: 1-3 2-4 3-104 4-111 5-139 6-180 7-180.

To Bat: D W Headley, A D Mullally.

Bowling: Kasprowicz 14-3-40-0; Dale 20-7-31-5; Foley 11-2-24-0; Bichel 20-4-37-1; Jackson 24-13-33-1; Mayer 1-0-2-0; Symonds 3-0-9-0.

Umpires: A J McQuillan and S J Tausel.