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Cricket: Heading in right direction

THERE IS a feeling among some of the Australian press and close observers who remember the bad days of Australian cricket in the late Eighties, and the remedies put in place by Bobby Simpson, that England's cricket has turned a corner.

They sense that there is a new togetherness, a new willingness to succeed, new and good back-room staff and sensible new methods which have been adopted by the coaches. There is a feeling that they are now getting the little things right and have embarked upon a road which will, eventually, lead to success.

For five hours at the Gabba, we were all able to appreciate this. A combination of hard work and determination has done much, and the final motivation has been supplied by the rubbishing that Alec Stewart's side has received from one end of Australia to the other.

These five hours showed that a start has been made, just as the last 90 minutes of the day made the point that there is still an awful long way to go. In this time, two dropped catches and some poor bowling with the second new ball to a large extent wasted all the earlier hard work.

The Australians have been winning consistently for a long time. They do not countenance failure. On the other hand, England on this first day will have been pinching themselves when Australia were 106 for 4 and later were unable to stop their heads from falling, and a mild panic from setting in, when Ian Healy began a typically ebullient rescue operation. All planning went to the winds.

One could sense poor old Angus Fraser, who had difficulty picking up the skier from Healy, thinking as the ball came down that it might get away from him, and the consequences which flashed across his mind. An Australian fielder in the same situation would have sprung to life thinking, "wonderful, here's another wicket". Nasser Hussain's dive at second slip for Steve Waugh's edge against Darren Gough then spoke, more than anything, of uncertainty and a lack of conviction.

England have to take one step at a time but after today the side knows that it will at least be competitive in Australia, and that cannot exactly harm self-belief. It was a good start and we must learn to rejoice in that, and not to wallow in those last 90 minutes.