Cricket: Disillusion follows shattered dream

Ashley Cowan knows just how Alex Tudor is feeling.
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The Independent Online
"WHOM THE Gods wish to destroy they first call promising." Well, in English cricket there is little need for divine intervention because the national selectors will do the job very nicely, thank you.

After a more than promising debut in Perth, Alex Tudor, 21, will have suffered a serious body blow to his confidence with his relegation to the sidelines for the current Test match in Adelaide. And with such emphasis put on confidence and psychological strength in modern sport, this perverse decision to drop him could have a greater detrimental effect on his career than was considered by Messrs Gooch, Lloyd and Stewart.

Of course the selectors are trying to pick a team to win each particular Test (don't snigger), and are scared witless by the tail end's convincing impersonation of a straw house in a hurricane, but Tudor did reach double figures in Perth and displayed some considerable aplomb at the crease.

And, if the truth be told, England's bowling cupboard is pretty bare; any talent needs cosseting, emotional support and a sense of belief instilled. After all, as every other country has proved, they are the jewels that win matches.

Twelve months ago while Tudor was aiming at securing a place in the Surrey line-up, Ashley Cowan, now 23, was preparing to embark for the West Indies as the "next great hope". Three months of training and tanning did not further his career in the manner that he had hoped, and his natural quirkiness and disregard for boring convention were seen as evidence of his lack of care, rather than just the natural behaviour of a different personality.

With the England management's thinly disguised preference for solid, almost robotic characters, Cowan became a victim of his own natural exuberance. And by hardly playing he had plenty of free time in which to amuse himself.

"I don't think I did anything wrong in the West Indies," he explained earlier this week. "I trained hard but rarely played, but the problem is people think I don't care because I laugh and dye my hair, but I do, I really do. I tried to learn from Malcolm Marshall out there because he was the best bowler in the world. People can't accuse me of not trying."

Although David Lloyd constantly speaks of building Team England and developing a fortress mentality of "them and us", Cowan's desire to improve saw him turn to the West Indies coach and one of the world's all-time greats.

But on his return he was disillusioned to have poor feedback from the England hierarchy. "I've had very little contact with the management since the tour," he said. "When I got back Gooch told me it was a big season for me and to get as many wickets and runs as quickly as possible but unfortunately I got injured. Other than that I didn't hear anything.

"I think the discussed England contracts would be a good thing because the fringe players would at least still feel involved and wanted," Cowan continued.

With such poor communication between the management and players one cannot help fearing for Alex Tudor in the coming weeks. "I can't believe he's not playing," Cowan said. "He must be injured or have a niggle that they are worried about. I'd hate to think what he's feeling like at the moment because, like the rest of us, he must have thought he was going to play."

If Tudor does return disheartened he could do worse than talk to Cowan and discuss their experiences. Since finally being given the all-clear over a persistent shoulder injury which prevented him from playing abroad this winter, Cowan has implemented a strict regime to "get me a lot of wickets next year and back in the England frame - where I think I belong.

"It's difficult to cope with suddenly being discarded but you have to view it as a challenge and fight back," he added.

Gruelling training sessions four times a week and hours of technical analysis with Geoff Arnold, widely considered to be the best bowling coach in England, are testament to his determination. "The last 12 months have taught me a lot. After my back operation in 1994 I'd not really had a downside and had risen to an England tour. But what do you do? Give up? Never! I love playing cricket. I'm a lot stronger now mentally and people that have written me off are going to have a shock."

So a winter spent in the gym, the restaurants of London for a club sponsor and selling janitorial supplies, "family business and not just toilet rolls," he giggled, are the Cowan route to cleaning up next year.

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