Cricket: National breakdown looks worse bit by bit

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
Session cricket was the declared and admirable objective of New England this summer. The thinking was that if they looked after the sessions, then the days and the matches would look after themselves.

Unfortunately, it requires merely idle scrutiny to show that if a musician played sessions as England have done, the outcome would be slightly less mellifluous than a cat's chorus. Since the First Test at Edgbaston and belated recovery in the Second at Lord's to earn a draw, England have never "won" three consecutive sessions.

In the first five Test matches there were a total of 54 sessions, taking into account breaks for weather and early finishes. Of these England perhaps won 21, the Australians the rest.

At Edgbaston in June, England astonishingly won the first six sessions. Australia, refusing to lie down immediately, took the next four, but were still chasing the game and lost the next two comfortably. England eight, Australia four. Lord's saw the first hint of the transfer of power. From the moment they bowled out England for 77 in two sessions, Australia were in control.

England's rearguard action reduced the arrears but the match finished England three, Australia five (running total England 11, Australia nine). Then came Old Trafford. England might have won the first session when the Aussies were 78 for 3 and definitely took the second which ended at 162 for 7.

But they could not finish the job. Australia took the third, then three from the following six, the last four and the match. It was one-one in Tests, but the session score was 16-17.

The gap was to grow wider. Come Headingley and the Fourth Test Australia went two sessions up by bowling out England for 172, were temporarily pulled back before advancing over three rampant periods of play to 500. England had the better in one more of the match's nine sessions but it was Australia's match by seven sessions to two and the overall score went to 24-18.

So to Trent Bridge when England's good habits were all in the past. England took just one of the sessions on the opening two days and another one on each of the next two. But the Aussies, by getting 427 and then refusing to be fazed when England's first wicket promised riches, took the match and session score nine to three.

In each match England have had their moments but Australia knew when to seize them. There was the mild impression throughout that England thought that taking one session was enough. It never was. England 21, Australia 33. Then came The Oval...

THE first Australian tour to England will be recalled on television on Thursday. The visitors played 47 matches, won 14 and drew 14. Wherever they went they drew huge crowds whom they entertained with exhibitions of boomerang and spear throwing.

"It was a hugely commercial venture and they were immensely popular," said Greg Lamming, producer of the segment in the Leviathan programme to be shown on BBC2 at 7.30pm on Thursday. "They were here from May to October which was probably too long and they ended up making little more than pounds 1,000. But the tourists were a real curiosity value and were almost like a circus going from one town to the next."

The venture was never to be repeated, for that inaugural tour to these shores was undertaken by a squad of Aborigines. Johnny Mullagh was their star player. He scored 75 at Lord's where the MCC decided to to allow a match after noticing how much money was taken through the gate during the opening fixture at The Oval.

Still, Aboriginal cricket all but died out. The feature will be introduced by the Aboriginal musician Kev Carmody whose uncle Eddie Gilbert once dismissed Don Bradman for a duck but was the last of his race to play first-class cricket. Carmody and Leviathan will be asking why.

WHAT with the senior knockout competition and the Under-19 Tests, NatWest Bank are one of the main sponsors of English cricket. But have they decided to give up on the ghost?

Their latest publicity material boasts: "Catch our lowest ever standard personal loan rate" and depicts a baseball-gloved hand catching a baseball. Nothing sinister, say the bank.

"We had a promotion advertising our cricket involvement running at the same time," said a spokesman. "We didn't want to confuse customers." Just so.

Book mark: "None surpassed Barrington in courage, determination and sheer consistency. No one rescued England so frequently... wherever one places him in the final academy of excellence amongst his own contemporaries there can be no denying the contention that, since his retirement, no player, Boycott aside, has come near to emulating his resilience and mastery of defence." From England Expects, Mark Peel's biography of the great Ken Barrington, recalling that the nation's middle-order Test batsmen used to build innings.

nursery end

IT IS possible that Paul Hutchison may come to rue the day he was born left-handed and able to bowl at a respectable pace. England have no track record in nurturing such bowlers to full, successful international maturity. But the start to the Yorkshireman's career, at just 20 years of age, has been mightily impressive. On England Under-19's tour to Zimbabwe two winters ago he was fast, accurate and took 15 wickets in the junior Tests. This was followed by virtually a season off with injury. But now Hutchison is back. On a flat Portsmouth pitch a fortnight ago he took 11 wickets and captured another seven at Scarborough last week as Yorkshire won by nine wickets. True, the opposition were only Hampshire and Sussex but Yorkshire may have got themselves another fast bowler.

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