Cricket: England's refusal to face truth

CRICKET Hussain's reluctance to admit extent of his team's failings may hinder progress
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The Independent Online
CONTEMPORARY TEST cricket has fewer skilful exponents of the art of spin-bowling than it has ever had, but, alas, is beginning to be taken over, as is the fashion in other high places, by spin doctors whose job seems to be to distort rather than to teach.

Their philosophy is that the truth is a commodity which should be used sparingly and that the world must learn to believe the stories they themselves are weaving. The regime guarding the England players here in South Africa have, these last few days, done their best not to allow the truth to escape.

In the press conference when the match had been lost yesterday morning, Nasser Hussain, the England captain, made much of losing the toss and being forced to bat first in extremely difficult conditions. He would, quite reasonably, have liked to have seen a more even playing field for the first Test of this series.

Fair enough. The winning of the toss gave South Africa an important advantage, but what it did not do was to explain away the woefully inadequate seam bowling by England or some batting, especially in the second innings, which was also worse than it should have been.

After England had been bowled out for 122, South Africa were allowed, on a pitch which had lost its worse bite but still permitted movement of the seam and had an uneven bounce, to score more than 400. Hussain was critical of the bowling, but only mildly so.

Of course, a captain must stay loyal to his players and if anyone is to be allowed to be protective it should surely be him. One hopes, though, that now he is away from the heat of the battle, he will be able to look at what went on late on the first day and all through the second, when England were fielding, in a truer perspective.

He will then, surely, have much to say to his three experienced seam bowlers, Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Alan Mullally, who found it extraordinarily difficult to put the ball where they wanted and, indeed, gave the impression they simply did not know where it was going.

One must presume they realised the importance of pitching the ball up to keep the batsmen on the front foot and of bowling straight to make them play. But the fact was that in a situation as crucial as this, they were unable to do so.

Increasingly, it seems, players dislike criticism, but these three bowlers should be left in no doubt that they let England down. The second Test, in Port Elizabeth, is 11 days away and for all three of them these should be days of hard labour in the nets. South Africa should not have been allowed to score many over 200 at the Wanderers, let alone over 400.

They beat England by an innings in scarcely more than three days. No matter how much the spin doctors try and keep the unpalatable truth to themselves, if the players are allowed to believe they have not done too badly there is no reason why they should ever improve.

Hussain glossed over the bowling, put the batting down to the pitch, which he condemned without wanting to issue an official complaint. I fear the captain and those around him may not be entirely prepared to face up to the truth.

I can only hope that what we have been told is what it is thought it would be good for us to hear and that the straight talking will have begun in earnest behind closed dressing-room doors. I hope, but I don't assume.