Cricket / First Test: Decline brings loss of faith

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The Independent Online
SHOULD Australia manage to hang on to avoid defeat then Allan Border, who has mopped up most of Australia's individual Test records, can claim a parity with Bradman. It would be Australia's 14th successive match against England without defeat, equalling the record of the 1946-51 teams led by Don Bradman and Lindsay Hassett.

As not even the most fanatical MCG Ocker would pretend that Border's teams can match Bradman's in the number of indisputable great players, and as England's teams at that point contained Hutton, Compton and Bedser the inevitable conclusion points to a sharp decline in the quality of England's teams.

That, perhaps, will become the crucial argument of this series. Is English cricket in permanent decline or will the new school, led by Andrew Caddick and Mark Lathwell, signal a revival? Keith Fletcher pondered the subject after play: 'We do need bowlers. Caddick has done well. There's Mark Ilott and we'd like to see (Martin) McCague fit.' More immediately, can England save the match? 'We could have done without that last ball. We can save it, play it session by session. The pitch is at its best, the outfield is quick and we have some quality players to come.'

Mike Gatting, bowled for four in the first innings, was yorked by the last ball of the day on his 36th birthday and was seen to swear as he left the field.

The other English disappointment was the attendance. While the BBC told viewers on Saturday that the ground was full at just under 22,000, Lancashire were counting 15,500: yesterday the ground looked to be a little over one-third full on a day when the glorious weather was widely predicted.

So why the apathy? There are the usual reasons - the price of seats, family commitments, TV coverage - but there was also a sense in the crowd yesterday that the stay-aways had lost faith in English cricket. They were echoing Norway's coach, when he said of England's footballers, 'I could not believe they would give up without a fight'. Today, they may be proved faithless.