Cricket: Laughing stock of the world

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The Independent Online
IT IS the system of English cricket which must stand convicted quite as much as its inadequate representatives in Australia. If it had not been for that storm in Brisbane, England would now be three matches down. As it is, they are two down with the Ashes firmly in Australia's keeping and with nowhere to hide.

It has, in all honesty, been embarrassing to watch England struggle so desperately even to compete with Australia over the last month. The batsmen have all shown - except John Crawley, whose present plight is too awful for words - that the art of batting is not completely dead in England.

Mark Ramprakash has fought bravely throughout and now badly needs another hundred to add to the one he scored in Barbados last March. The only hundred so far has been made by Mark Butcher, in Brisbane, but now he is again as badly out of sorts as he was at the start of the tour. The others have all dipped into the 40s and 50s and 60s.

They have done the hard work, but just as they have been starting to play pretty well, they have got themselves out. Batsmen who, at other times, have found it easy enough to go on to a hundred and beyond, have suddenly forgotten how to do it any longer.

This is a reflection of two things. First, Australia are a most formidable side; there are no weak links, they are captained most capably and, man for man, appear far tougher and more battle-hardened than England. They also have a remarkable self-belief which is called confidence and is the second factor.

Australia are used to winning, England are not. Their recent victory over South Africa, which owed a huge amount to questionable umpiring, has been shown up for what it was. Some of the gloss was immediately removed from it by the walloping England were given by Sri Lanka. Now, it can be seen as a mirage.

England have fallen back all too easily into the habit of losing and are playing the untidy cricket which is almost always the hallmark of sides which have no confidence and therefore no self-belief. It is the classic Catch-22 situation because a side needs confidence to start winning and to start winning to gain confidence.

Sadly, there do not seem to be the individuals capable of producing a match-winning performance on their own which would lift the side and change the gloomy course of this series. Nasser Hussain might just play this sort of innings, and in the bowling department Alex Tudor has as much of a chance as anyone - if he can get another game. How England should regret not playing him at the Adelaide Oval.

When the pressure is on, England cannot handle it, which the coach, David Lloyd, apparently regarded as an unforgivably negative question when asked the other night why this might be so. If those in authority are not prepared to face up to the real world, one wonders how things will ever get better.

Pious hopes for the future are all very well, but this England tour of Australia has gone past this point. The embarrassing truth is that the Australian public, to say nothing of the hundreds of England supporters out here, have been badly let down, not to say insulted, by the cricket England have been playing.

Ian Chappell wrote the other day that England were no longer worth a five-match series in Australia and, on this evidence, it is impossible to argue. Twelve thousand miles away in England, it may not be so easy to realise the laughing stock that English cricket has become in Australia, and that is even before seeing the absurd efforts of England's tail-enders trying to play out even one single over.

On this last day at the Adelaide Oval, I found myself wondering if I would ever again see England win back the Ashes. The gulf between England and Australia cricket has become that large.

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