Cricket: Knives out for troubled Taylor

Guy Hodgson sees Gloucestershire add to the Australian captain's problems
You did not have to search long for an incident to epitomise the problem confronting the Australian cricket team. On Tuesday, prior to the start of their three-day game against Gloucestershire at Bristol, Geoff Marsh, their coach, began erecting a video camera to monitor Mark Taylor's batting. He need not have bothered.

Before Marsh had finished putting the equipment together, before he could begin to think about filming, the Australian captain was dragging his careworn body back to the pavilion. M A Taylor, caught Russell, bowled Smith 0. He had lasted just four balls.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph's headline yesterday was "Dead Duck", which succinctly summed up the mood back home. "The problem is," one Australian journalist said in Bristol yesterday, "we are playing one man short."

Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain who is never afraid to express an opinion, appears to concur. "I have not seen anything in Mark Taylor's batting to say he's coming out of a slump," he wrote in the above newspaper. "Australia have two openers in form and I don't think they have enough time to mess around with him any more. I have to ask the question: is it a prolonged slump or has he gone?"

Taylor, his footwork uncertain, is grasping for every run at the moment. He has not scored a half-century in his last 20 Tests or in his last 12 one-day internationals. Worse, the ping-pong that has been played between Australia and Britain this week over who selects the Test side has given rise to the suggestion that the concensus is the captain should go. It is just that no one wants to be the one to tell him.

Alan Crompton, the Australian manager, yesterday said team selection rested solely with the three appointed tour selectors: Marsh, the vice- captain Steve Waugh and Taylor. The first two, long-standing friends, are unlikely to force the captain's hand. Any decison will probably come from the man himself.

"I feel for Mark," Waugh said. "He's been having a bad time but I believe it's too soon to make judgements. Too many people are assessing his form over what's gone on in the past 12 months or so, but this is a new tour and so far he's had only one first-class knock. If he makes runs in the next innings, then there shouldn't be a problem."

As Waugh says: "It's not only Mark Taylor who's not doing great". Several tourists have found difficulty adjusting to soft wickets where the ball seams. But when the captain fails, you notice.

The Australians need a win and it is going to take a remarkable performance to wrest one out of the current match. On a pudding of a pitch that is getting slower by the hour, it was the Australian bowlers rather than Taylor who toiled yesterday as Gloucestershire turned an overnight 55 for 1 into 350 all out and a first-innings lead of 101.

Nick Trainor was the principal beneficiary, plundering the visitors' attack for 121 off 246 balls in a maiden century that included 17 fours, but Robert Cunliffe also helped himself to 61 which rather summed up the way things are going for the tourists at the moment. Both batsmen bagged pairs against Essex in their last Championship match.

Trainor, discarded by Durham, and who introduced himself to Gloucestershire by asking for a trial, was out in the 83rd over, getting a top edge to an attempted hook off Glenn McGrath that Mike Kasprowicz took with a diving catch at fine leg. With his departure the innings fizzled out, leaving the Australians to negotiate 23 tricky overs without undue alarm, reaching 43 for 0. Taylor, to huge Australian relief, was 19 not out.

Scoreboard, page 30