Cricket: England to smarten up or face dressing-down

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The Independent Online
On the eve of their toughest test, England's cricketers have been presented with a code of personal conduct akin to a guide for new arrivals at a prep school.

It should ensure that even if England are well beaten by the Australians this summer, they will also be well turned out, well-behaved and well fed.

The 28-page England Players Handbook, unveiled yesterday by the England management, sets the tone in its foreword, in which it tells the players: "You will be required to train and practise hard at all times.

"Sensible rest, a carefully controlled diet and a disciplined lifestyle will be important factors in helping you reach your goals. Proper professional preparation will be an important factor in England becoming a successful team, and you will be expected to play your part."

It continues: "As an England cricketer you will come under the most intense public scrutiny and there it is essential that you present the right image in terms of both your appearance and behaviour on and off the field, and that you conduct yourself at all times in a manner befitting an international sportsman representing his country."

The document covers virtually all possible pitfalls for the unprofessional, or merely unwary, such as betting, punctuality, dressing-room privacy and the need to promote cricket in a positive manner when dealing with the media.

In the past, Bob Bennett, the committee's chairman, explained, all such niceties had been taken as read. Now they will have to be read, and understood. "We are trying to give them a reference point for what is expected of them," Bennett said. "But what we have stressed is that we administrators, plus the management and players are all a partnership."

In revealing the code to the players when the squad gathered in Leeds yesterday to prepare for the one-day internationals that start on Thursday, David Lloyd, England's coach, shed more light on the new approach. "We as an England team, and representing English cricket, have a new corporate image and we wanted to take the players through the things they will now have to adhere to," he said.

To the sound, no doubt, of favourite floppy hats being cast into the dustbin, he explained that when it came to clothing: "We will be generally tightening up our act." Everyone will wear helmets complete with lions.

Let's hope that goes for the playing side, too. Laudable as it may be to make a stand on values, it is results and the values of batting and bowling averages that will exercise the minds of cricket fans who crave success in the Ashes series.

Alongside this return to old-fashioned ways, Lloyd stressed that, as coach, he intends to continue his modernisation programme. It is unfortunate that as he tries to overcome the jibes that his changes are mere gimmicks, the management committee has produced a document which, in the absence of success on the field, could be dismissed on the same basis.

"I was surprised, for instance, my use of video analysis and motivational techniques were last summer called gimmicks. It's only what the Australians do, and the South Africans and the West Indians," he said. "When I came into the job at this stage last year I was genuinely surprised to find that these aids to preparation were not standard within the England set- up.

"We work out strategy, we study strengths and weaknesses of opponents and we concentrate on things like fitness, sport psychology and general analysis of each upcoming match."

Presumably analysis of the leg-spin bowler Shane Warne will feature prominently in those preparations, or it will be regulation issue navy blue helmets off to the Aussies this summer.