Cricket: Caddick has a chance to alter image

Nasser Hussain's captaincy offers fresh opportunities for England cricket mavericks. By Derek Pringle
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The Independent Online
ONE OF the bolder pledges made by Nasser Hussain in his acceptance speech as England's new captain last Friday, was the claim that talented misfits would be made welcome. He obviously had one or two in mind for, a few days later, when the England squad for the first Test against New Zealand was announced, the names of Andrew Caddick and Phil Tufnell, neither of whom had played Test cricket for 18 months, suddenly appeared.

Contrary to the chuffed "over the moonisms" that players tend to spout when recalled to England colours, returning to the fold is one of the most difficult times in a cricketer's career. Not for them the three match grace and hard luck pat on the shoulder reserved for new boy and regular alike. No, for players like Caddick and Tufnell, the old insecurities are never completely conquered until proof is on the page - which means wickets for bowlers and runs for batsmen.

Of the two, it is Caddick who has most to do in order to prove his worth. Unlike Tufnell, who, in the eyes of the public, has always been something of a loveable rogue, Caddick has a social awkwardness that has brought him a bad press. Born in New Zealand, many have portrayed him as nothing but a mercenary, a harsh view considering his father only left Liverpool after the family business had been destroyed in the war. If he was Australian or South African, such slights would not be a problem, but beneath Caddick's gauche exterior lies a delicate ego, sensitive to criticism's slightest prick.

Quite why a major talent like Caddick doubts himself, will undoubtedly remain a mystery. He is rated by his peers and even by Steve Waugh, who could not believe his luck when England showed up in Australia without him last winter. To make the selectors' myopia look even worse, Caddick had just taken 105 first-class wickets for Somerset, a feat achieved by just two other bowlers - Courtney Walsh and Anil Kumble - since the Championship was shortened to 17 matches in 1993.

So far, Caddick now 30, has been an England failure. That is not to say the bowler himself is no good, for he has 74 Test wickets from 21 matches, rather that the set-up, that multi-layered behemoth known as Team England, has failed to get the best out of him. There are reasons for this and they largely stem from the old county pro system that spawned the likes of Alec Stewart, David Lloyd and to a certain degree, Michael Atherton.

Rightly or wrongly, team games favour the unselfish and easygoing. In cricket, especially at the lower levels, where prizes are an adjunct to the event itself, sides tend to go for "good lads" rather than talented players who do not buy their round. Until recently, county cricket was not dissimilar, and although one or two notable exceptions such as Geoffrey Boycott slipped through, neither was Test cricket.

There is no doubt that captains and coaches prefer to be given an easy ride. In the past, one of Caddick's perceived faults is that he makes excuses, blaming everyone but himself. This has not endeared him to those in charge, who in turn have perhaps been over-critical in their assessments of him when England have lost.

Indeed the latest hiatus in his Test career has almost certainly due to his poor bowling performance in the first of the two Tests played against the West Indies in Port of Spain early in 1998. Everyone has a bad day occasionally, but Caddick's failure to take a single wicket on a pitch overly suited to seam, brought back suspicions regarding his mental toughness. As it was, England lost a close match they ought to have won and Caddick was marked down as a liability under pressure.

Down at Somerset, where they are used to his quirks, he is treated with the deference of the match-winner that he undoubtedly is, and he performs accordingly. But, if he excels on the field, he is still capable of putting his foot in his mouth off it.

An example of this came in the recent Championship match against Yorkshire, where Caddick, having been instrumental in making the Tykes follow on, removed both openers just before the close of play. Seeing that Ceefax was already registering the fact on the dressing-room television, he went up to the screen and stated - "Tomorrow, that scorecard will read Caddick, Caddick, Caddick, all the way down." According to Dermot Reeve, the Somerset coach, it is his way of saying to the lads - "I'm going to bowl my heart out for you," and one apparently accepted by his team-mates without so much as a raised eyebrow.

An England dressing-room would be different, and many of the old codes still apply. Or at least they did, until Hussain, himself a victim of the old prejudices during his early days at Essex, took over. By picking players like Caddick, Hussain has obviously persuaded the selectors that he is more tolerant of mavericks than his predecessors, or at least more certain of extracting their class.

It is not all down to poor man management and Caddick, following a period of denial following his poor showing in the West Indies, has made some adjustments himself. According to Reeve, the single most important factor in his recent success has been a technical change rather than a mental one, and was spotted by Peter Wishart, Somerset's Australian bowling coach, during pre-season nets last year.

Apparently, Wishart spotted that Caddick was throwing his bowling arm out wide in the gather just before delivery, a habit that was unbalancing him and therefore contributing to the inaccuracy that plagued him in the Caribbean. Adjustments were made accordingly and the results have so far brought the fast bowler 150 first-class wickets, over 40 of them this season.

The change has also allowed Caddick to get in closer to the stumps and, providing he can bowl the fuller length required to get the best players out without compromising his pace - always a problem in the past - there is no reason why England cannot start reaping the benefits too. A bowling attack boasting Caddick, Alan Mullally and, when fit, Darren Gough, would surely test most, especially in English conditions.

"Andy is always going to be one of those guys you have to put your arm around," says Reeve. "Like most of us, he wants to belong and to be valued as a member of the team. If Nasser can make him feel welcome and loved, he can be a great asset for England."