Cricket: Don't over-react to England exit

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The Independent Online
TO EVERY action there is an equal and opposite reaction - except in English cricket, where there is a massive over-reaction. England's exit from the World Cup may be a marketing disaster, but it is not a cricketing one. They didn't play THAT badly. They weren't half as bad as in 1996. And it is certainly not a reason to rip the team up and start again. The worst aspect of England's international cricket over the past 20 years has been all the chopping and changing. Some chops and changes are in order, but they must be thought out. Here are my 12 steps for the rehabilitation of Team England.

1 Stick with Alec Stewart as Test captain. The best thing about Stewart's very mixed World Cup was his captaincy, which confounded doubters like me by showing a new willingness to attack. He has been Test captain for just a year and in only two Tests has he been unshackled by the wicketkeeping gloves - the last two, in Melbourne and Sydney, where England won and nearly won again, and Stewart made 107, 52, 3 and 42. In due course Nasser Hussain will make a good Test captain, steely and open-minded, but this winter the South Africans would rather face him than Stewart, whose gamesmanship and galvanising impressed them last summer. And with Mike Atherton still unfit, this is no time to pension off Stewart the batsman.

2 Dump Stewart from the one-day side. He was never a great one-day player, and he will be 40 in 2003. The new one-day captain can be Nick Knight, Mark Ramprakash or Hussain, who have all done well as captain or vice- captain on A tours. I favour Knight, who is more of a gambler than the other two. Adam Hollioake would be best of all, but first he has to regain his form of 1997.

3 Arrange some one-day internationals, fast. David Graveney made encouraging noises on Tuesday about the need to accept every invitation that comes England's way, and we look forward to seeing them play in Toronto, Orlando and downtown Cairo before the next World Cup. But hang on. Has anyone noticed that England don't have a single one-dayer for the rest of the season? The counties have just got their star players back for three weeks as a bonus. So they won't mind releasing them for a quick best-of-three one-day series against New Zealand on 11, 25 and 27 August, at three World Cup grounds that did not host England - say Bristol, Leicester and Chester- le-Street.

4 Call Dermot Reeve. As captain of Warwickshire Reeve proved himself to be England's only one-day genius, a Mike Brearley in pyjamas. He played in our last good World Cup team, the 1992 finalists, and he worked closely at Edgbaston with Bob Woolmer. The post-Lloyd vacuum is a perfect opportunity to give him a go as England's one-day coach.

5 Call Woolmer, again. Several eminent cricket writers are saying that Woolmer's mixed feelings about the England coaching job should rule him out. But one of the privileges of cricket writing is that you don't have to hire and fire anyone. People often have doubts about taking jobs.Woolmer has a few options, but he stands head and shoulders above any other candidate.

6 Find a keeper. Or two - one for each England team. Chris Read of Nottinghamshire, aged 20, for the Test side, if the selectors can bring themselves to go for youth and specialism (though he usually manages 30 when Nottinghamshire are in trouble). For the one-day side it should be the man who kept, incongruously, in England's last Test - Warren Hegg, the Moin Khan of the fish'n'chip circuit.

7 Prepare bouncy pitches. England's fast bowling is in its best condition for 20 years. Darren Gough, Alan Mullally, Dean Headley and Alex Tudor have all raised their game under the tutelage of Bob Cottam. Angus Fraser, Chris Lewis, Andy Caddick and Dominic Cork are breathing down their necks. Anyone for an eight-man pace attack?

8 Bring back Phil Tufnell. He is England's only Test-winning finger spinner. On the winter tour, he can play Flanders to Graeme Swann of Northamptonshire, who is 20, turns the ball sharply and made 111 and 92 against Leicestershire, Mullally and Lewis included, last year. He went to South Africa 18 months ago with England Under-19, batted at No 5, and collected a World Cup winner's medal.

9 Persuade Andrew Flintoff to play back. At 21 Flintoff is a wonderful striker of the ball with only one fault: he plunges forward like a puppy to everyone, including Allan Donald and Anil Kumble. Graham Gooch, who had the same problem once, could sort him out.

10 Locate Darren Gough's lost batting ability. At Sydney in 1994-95 Gough gave hope at another of England's low ebbs by walloping a gung-ho 50. Since then he hasn't reached 30. A less popular cricketer would have taken a lot of flak for this.

11 Pick this Test team. Stewart (capt), Butcher, Hussain, Thorpe, Ramprakash, Ben Hollioake or Crawley, Nixon or Read (wkt), Headley or Tudor, Gough, Mullally, Tufnell.

12 And this one-day team. Knight (capt), Hussain or Maddy, B Hollioake, Thorpe, Ramprakash, Gavin Hamilton, Lewis, Hegg (wkt), Ealham, Gough, Mullally. 12th man: Swann. Apart from all being the right side of 32, they have only three advantages over the World Cup side: more batsmen, more bowlers, and better fielders.

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