Cricket: Fletcher quick to jump to the defence of his players

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THE ENGLAND cricket team flew into this north-east steel city last night for tomorrow's fourth one-day international against India bouyed by their first win in six weeks but angry at accusations that they are perceived among the first-class counties as 'slovenly-dressed whingers'.

Keith Fletcher, the England coach, said yesterday that he would be briefing Ted Dexter, the chairman of selectors, with a strong defence of his team before Dexter appears before the TCCB next month.

Despite losing key players for each Test because of injury and illness, and enduring a draining schedule made worse by India's political and industrial instability, neither Fletcher or Graham Gooch have sought refuge in excuses. 'We have not whinged about anything. We have simply been outplayed. If we don't play well we say so,' said Fletcher. 'If you don't win people start rubbishing you and it is very annoying to be rubbished by people who are not here. I cannot fault the lads for effort. They have given everything and if they had not Graham and I would be upset.'

The extent of that effort has ironically led to some of the criticism. When Paul Jarvis collected the man-of-the-match award at Bangalore on Friday many a shire member must have blanched at his unkempt appearance.

But there is a big difference between sitting in an armchair watching Sky TV and spending four hours fielding and bowling in 90-degree heat on a dusty outfield, all the while being pelted by spectators. 'Paul was soaking with sweat, covered with the red dust of the outfield and looked a state,' Fletcher said. 'But he had won us the match. People complaining back in London might not have realised that he had dived through sandpits on the boundary and been bombarded with curry.'

England manager Bob Bennett also came under fire for appearing in the post-Test press conference in Bombay in boxer shorts and casual shirt. Bennett looked like someone who had just got out of bed - which is not surprising as he had spent three days there under doctor's orders suffering from a trapped nerve in his back. Bennett, who was not fit to travel to Jamshedpur and hopes to join the team in Delhi on Tuesday, said: 'I only attended as I did not want to be accused of ducking out.'

Where the criticism could be justified is in the motley appearance of the team while travelling which they do in a variety of Tetley's shirts and tracksuit. But that is under orders from Lord's who laid down the dress code under the pounds 1m a year Tetley deal.

Richard Moore of Tetley's said his company did not dictate to the TCCB on dress but obviously wanted the players to wear branded clothing, whatever style it was. He added: 'We will be happy to discuss things with the board if they want to change things.'

Michael Atherton and Phil Tufnell remained in Bangalore with Bennett as they are not needed for tomorrow's game. England may bring in Paul Taylor for Devon Malcolm from the team that went 2-1 up in the series on Thursday.