Cricket: England need plan to end collapses

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BY RECENT England standards, this was not a particularly impressive collapse. They went from 191 for 2 in the 39th over to 256 for 8 by the end. Yet it was another disintegration which cost England an almost impregnable position and is something that the powers-that-be in the dressing room seem to regard as a phenomenon which will simply go away - at least they appear to do nothing about it.

It has happened in Test matches. It was bad in the last Test of the tour in Antigua, it was horrific in the Second Test this summer at Lord's against South Africa. It was another collectible item in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test and has been on view in all three of the one-day internationals in the Emirates Triangular.

The selectors appear to regard this ability to dissolve - which England have developed almost to an art form - as something which does not need to be taken seriously.

The lower middle order batting has not been strengthened. Mike Atherton came into the side for the final in place of Adam Hollioake, which still meant that the serious batting ended at No 6. Robert Croft's batting, like his bowling, has not progressed and he is not good enough to come in at the fall of the fifth wicket.

If the selectors do not feel there are batsmen of sufficient quality to bring in at seven - although I believe they should have taken a chance with Ben Hollioake, who most certainly is - they must look for players who are able to understand the requirements down the order and at least to play sensible cricket.

They have made the decision to go for specialists rather than bit-part all rounders which is fine as long as the specialists live up to their reputations. But just in case they do not, and they have made a habit of this in recent months, they really do need some sort of insurance policy.

Alec Stewart, one has been led to believe, tells all his players what he expects from them. Somehow this does not seem to ring true when it comes to the batting.

In this one-day competition the lower middle order have seldom indicated they are playing to a specific plan.

England were now given a superb start by Nick Knight and Atherton and the former captain began almost as if he had been selected as a pinch- hitter. This was another sure indication of how freedom from the responsibility of the captaincy has loosened his approach. He batted in this innings as if he was really enjoying it when normally he tends to make it look as if batting is a form of penance decreed by the Italian poet Dante.

It was the admirably Sri Lankan spinners who hauled England back. Of course Muttiah Muralitharan took pride of place with five wickets, but the others admirably exploited the weakness of contemporary batsmen against spin. But there was something depressingly fragile and inevitable about the way England's later batsmen surrendered the initiative and it has been going on for too long.