Cricket: Butcher's look means a fresh start

A positive approach in adversity can pay dividends for the tourists. By Henry Blofeld
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THE SECOND half of the Australian innings revealed that there are still many things to put right in this England side. With the shining exception of Alan Mullally, the consistency in the bowling was woeful and the fielding and catching have been such that a state of National Emergency should be declared.

For all that, it has been most encouraging to see some definite signs of improvement. In the first five hours on Friday the seam bowlers showed what they are capable of, which made their subsequent fall from grace all the more obscene.

They know what to do, but they play too much cricket when it does not matter and the standards are low to be able to turn it on at will. It's easier too to bowl well when wickets are falling than when the bat is in charge. In recent years England's bowlers have found it harder to concentrate than their opponents because they do not have a tough enough domestic competition.

County fielding has also been consistently worse than it should be. This is an aspect which really has to be worked at. Of course, no one is ever going to turn a carthorse into a greyhound, but even a carthorse can be taught a certain efficiency.

Angus Fraser was never built to patrol the covers, nor Robert Croft to run like David Gower, but both should be able to field consistently to a standard within their limitations. This is what the England coaches must aim at, but it is difficult when county fielding routines are less intense and demanding.

While England's bowlers surprised the Australians for most of Friday, Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain will have had them furiously scratching their heads late on the second day. Mike Atherton's dismissal was predictable enough and this should have been the cue for much care-worn defence and possibly a collapse.

But Butcher and Hussain went for their strokes instead. When Hussain hooked Glenn McGrath resoundingly to square-leg for four, Mark Taylor's side looked as if a rainbow had suddenly turned and bitten them in the leg. For good measure, he repeated the stroke against Mike Kasprowicz.

Butcher, with nine runs in five first-class innings, should have come to the wicket feeling as small as the guardsman who dropped his rifle in H M Bateman's famous cartoon. Instead of which, he strode to the wicket and square-cut McGrath for four in the very first over.

Not content with this, he steered Damien Fleming through the gully for four and played him off his legs for another in the same over. His feet were moving and he was picking his bat up as if he meant it.

This was the perfect riposte and pre-eminently sensible batting but, in the circumstances, it is not easy to do. That they did strongly argues that the players are at last getting the advice and the support they need. Butcher's confidence has been in tatters but you would never have guessed it.

He has a strong character but that must have been backed up by the sympathetic but firm support and backing that he needed. I could detect the manager, Graham Gooch, in the way both players performed. Whatever the situation, Gooch tried to hit a half-volley for four and his help now will have been crucial.

His influence in the England dressing room is strong and beneficial. He is being thoughtful, shrewd, friendly and firm and there is not a player who will not have an immense respect for what he achieved as a player. Gooch must go on teaching the down-to-earth realism which produces good cricket and wins matches. England's cricket has been airy-fairy for far too long, but at last there is a break in the clouds.