Cricket: England lack the will to succeed

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND CLEARLY had the best of two of the first three days of the series in Brisbane and, to all outward appearances, have thereafter been swamped.

The batting has been worse than the bowling, as has often been the case in Australia. But the fielding and catching - oh dear! It may seem strange to say that if England had held all their catches, they would have had a chance of winning both matches. A total of 10 have been missed in these first two Tests and, if they had been caught, it would have meant a big turnaround.

Three went down on the first day at the Gabba. The first, from Michael Slater to a diving Nasser Hussain at second slip, was not expensive. Australia had reached 178 for 5 when Ian Healy joined Steve Waugh and both should have been out before the close of play that evening.

Healy, when he had made 36 on his way to 134, heaved at Darren Gough and was dropped at third man by Angus Fraser and, just before the close, Waugh, who had made 68 and finished with 112, played back to Gough and Hussain, going again to his right at second slip, dropped the catch. If those two had been held, Australia would have been about 230 for 7, or even less, that night. With the new ball only eight overs old, the last three wickets would surely not have been too much of a problem the next morning.

England's first-innings total of 375 would have given them a useful lead and the mood would have been entirely different when Australia began their hectic second innings. The importance of those two dropped catches becomes ineradicably clear.

We moved on to Perth. England's poor and dispirited batting on the first day has been universally blamed for losing the match, but what if all the catches had stuck? In Australia's first innings, no less than six were put down.

Slater, who made 34, was dropped by Ben Hollioake, on as substitute, in the gully when he was 15. He had scored 10 more when he drove at Alex Tudor and Graeme Hick, at second slip, palmed the ball over the bar. When Mark Taylor, who made 61, had reached 38, he drove at Gough and Hick dropped a straightforward one at second slip at knee height.

On the second morning, Steve Waugh, who was 11 at the time, on the way to 33, cut Alan Mullally only just over Mark Butcher's head at third slip. Later, when he was 20, he drove Gough to Mullally at wide mid off and he missed another straightforward one. At the end, Ricky Ponting, who was nine at the time, hooked Tudor into and out of Gough's hands at fine leg, although he only made three more.

Of course, the effect of these drops cannot be calculated just by adding up the runs scored by each batsman after they had been missed. If the catches had been held there would have been a knock-on effect as the pattern of the whole innings would have been different.

Australia would almost certainly still have had a first innings lead but a much smaller one and a target of 150 or so in the fourth innings could have been a nasty proposition for them. As it was, they lost their first three batsmen for 36, chasing only 64, and, even then, Mullally had dropped an easy return catch from Slater.

Unremitting hard work in practice is surely the only cure, although it makes one wonder if all the coaches adopt the right routine in practice. To cure faults are what coaches are for and, if this epidemic continues, one can only ask if they are doing their job properly.

It cannot just be down to the greater fallibility of Anglo-Saxons because most, if not all, the Australians are shoots off the same original root. I suspect it has quite a lot to do with mental toughness, determination and the will to success - in fact, with the whole approach to the job - and it is the Australians who point the way here.