Cricket: Fletcher's `crisis' dinner

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The Independent Online
DUNCAN FLETCHER came to Old Trafford yesterday, left and later joined the England hierarchy for what is being termed a "crisis" dinner at the team headquarters.

In between, the old firm of Alec Stewart and Mike Atherton gave England hope of saving the third Test against New Zealand with a stand of 99.

England have to contemplate batting another three sessions to save the game, as they did at Old Trafford last summer.

First, though, the England manager David Graveney was set to join the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Lord MacLaurin, Brian Bolus, the chairman of England's Management Advisory Committee, the International Teams Director Simon Pack, Fletcher and England's captain Nasser Hussain at the dinner.

Graveney would not give the gathering a `crisis' tag, saying instead: "It is an opportune time for all parties to get together. It's an informal dinner."

It would, none the less, be a surprise if there were not a few spicy items on the menu, with England far from safe from going to The Oval 2- 1 down for the final Test.

Fletcher, who takes over as coach on 1 October, called in at Old Trafford while England were in the field and was gone when the team returned to the dressing room at lunchtime.

Anxious not to encroach on the current set-up before he begins his contract, Fletcher avoided a meeting with the players and will delay his first official get-together until later in the summer.

"I came to Old Trafford to meet with Nasser Hussain and members of the England team management, which is all part of the process of acquainting myself with them ahead of an informal dinner with Nasser, David Graveney, Simon Pack, Ian MacLaurin and Brian Bolus," Fletcher said.

"There is no agenda to the evening and that, too, is all part of the process of getting to know the people I will be working with once I take up my job on October 1."

Graveney added: "Duncan's come here, and it's been an extension of discussions we've had and an opportunity to get to know the people who are involved.

"The selection panel is the same until the team for the South African tour is picked, and there is nothing I have been told or learned from anybody else to suggest otherwise. We have a new coach being appointed in October; he has a current job at Glamorgan. I've had one opportunity to speak to him; Nasser Hussain has had a couple of opportunities.

"He's happy to come to any game when he is available. He came briefly in the morning and left before lunch when the team was in the field. He came in midway through the first session and had a brief chat. He didn't want to get in the way of the players in terms of the dressing-room environment."

New Zealand were still 179 ahead at the close of play, and Graveney observed afterwards: "We've got to bat three remaining sessions, and it is not dissimilar to where we were last year - so I'm very confident our batsmen will be able to rule the game. To lose Atherton and a batsman of his capabilities is a blow but not an irrecoverable blow.

"He will be as equally disappointed as anybody in the team, but we will come back doubly determined to save the game. The wicket has played a lot easier on days two, three and four.

"Our malaise at international level is what we do in the first innings, which is a failure to post a score and gain control of the game. But batting was hard on the first day.

"New Zealand have played the better cricket, and for the first time in the match the partnership between Alec and Athers was a period of time when we had some control at the crease."