Cricket: England's faulty thinking

Henry Blofeld in Antigua says the tourists are feeling too sorry for themselves; Too much siege in the mentality tarnishes tour as self-pity becomes an unappealing way of life
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The Independent Online
AT THE press conference at the end of the drawn Fifth Test in Barbados, the captain Mike Atherton said, a trifle wistfully, that England had had the better of three Test matches so far. How come, then, they were 2-1 down in the series?

They should have won the first of the two Test matches in Port of Spain, when bad umpiring enabled the West Indies to get away with it. England won the second and had an excellent chance of winning the Fifth until the rains came. Although England can legitimately claim bad luck, they are still a side who are unable to finish things off. They should have won that first Test in Trinidad in spite of the umpiring. In Georgetown, they should never have allowed the West Indies last-wicket pair to add 70 on the fourth morning.

Their record suggests that even if the weather had stayed fine in Bridgetown, they would not have been able to finish that one off either. They plead bad luck, but are they really good enough, or do they lack a crucial ingredient? Yesterday provided something of an answer.

They need another strike bowler. They want a captain who is a little less security conscious and not so eager to fall back on the safety-first option. They need a No 3 batsman who can dominate. All or any of these would be a big help. But the real concern is the attitude and mental approach of this side. They are so desperately quick to justify themselves, to look for excuses and to blame others. They are almost never prepared to accept the responsibility for anything.

A party at the British High Commission in Georgetown illustrates the point. Only two were prepared to work the room and talk to the guests. The others rushed to a table in the garden and talked only among themselves, looking as if they were doing a penance. It was simply rude.

In the Barbados Test, Atherton made an offensive two-fingered gesture at the West Indian opener, Philo Wallace, when he was out. A press photographer captured the moment without realising it and only when a colleague looked at the negative later was it discovered. It was a coup for the tabloids.

The photographers made an arrangement so that in the event of an England victory in the match, three of them from one group would be on hand to take photographs in the England dressing-room after the finish, including the snapper who caught Atherton's gesture. The press officer in the England camp let the photographer know that while he would not be banned from the dressing-room, he would not receive any co-operation from the players.

In Antigua, two nights before the start of this Test match, Cable and Wireless, who are the main sponsors of the West Indies, gave a formal party. The England side had been invited before the tour started, but refused, claiming they had said originally that they would go only to two official parties scheduled for the tour and that they had fulfilled this quota. Cable and Wireless expected them at this party, however, and had gone to the trouble to prepare a special dining area and dinner for them with typical English food. There was, among other things, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Not a single member of the party turned up, even for a drink, because they had had a better invitation. They had been asked for a drink on Paul Getty's splendid yacht. Cable and Wireless were mortified and the West Indies Cricket Board not a little upset.

The English camp is heavily into justifying their absence, taking the view that the players are put upon too much. The nearest to a show of guilt came when the manager apparently said the refusal had been sent very late.

It is an episode which reflects little credit on the players, even less on the management and has harmed the image of English cricket in these parts. The touring party are swift to cry foul when they perceive it and are completely immersed in their own selfish interest.

Duty is a word that no longer applies. Cricketers are spoiled and are allowed to get their way over everything. Perhaps if they stopped feeling hard done by and sorry for themselves and concentrated more on the job in hand, showing an altogether tougher and more determined frame of mind, they might actually be able to finish a few more matches off properly.