Cricket: Ramprakash flowers in face of old defeatism

Derek Pringle, Cricket Correspondent, says England's excuses disguise the real reasons behind latest Test defeat to West Indies
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The Independent Online
POST-MORTEMS of England defeats on a cricket field are generally a straightforward business. But if explanations from the team's coaches - ranging from the pithy honesty of Keith "we played crap" Fletcher to the wild optimism of David "we flippin' murdered 'em" Lloyd - have reflected this in the past, the latest explanation, following Monday's crushing defeat by the West Indies, needs to incorporate the words delusion and defeatism.

England did not misread the pitch; only a dyslexic wearing sunglasses could have done that. What they misread was the effectiveness tall pace bowlers would have on that pitch. As Lloyd pointed out, yesterday: "We didn't have two 6ft 7in fast bowlers hitting a crumbling pitch at 80 miles an hour." No, one of them - Andy Caddick - was 12th man while the other - Angus Fraser, still exhausted after his marathon efforts in Trinidad - had only two or three good spells in him.

Even before the game had started, England were arguing from false premises, basing their four-man bowling attack on an Australian model that includes a peerless leg-spinner and a top-class fast bowler, Glenn McGrath, now, incidentally, broken down from overuse. Aping this aspect of the Aussies' game is self-delusion on a grand scale, as was the notion that had England won the toss, then they too would also have won the game.

With two spinners and two seam bowlers, Atherton was committed to winning what was always going to be a crucial toss, even more so in the case of England's pace-light team. He didn't and boy did it show, particularly in England's cricket after lunch on the first day.

Cricketers are not the most opaque of people. Generally their body language lays bare their innermost beliefs. By the time Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul had finished with them, it did not need Desmond Morris to tell you that most of them knew that the game was up. The next day, the second of four, all but Alec Stewart, Mark Ramprakash and Robert Croft batted like men condemned to fate over which they had no dominion.

It is that kind of defeatism, peculiar to English cricket, that Stephen Bull, the team's psychologist - out here in Guyana until last Thursday - should really be tackling. It is a malaise that once again stems from the amount of domestic cricket played, where unpromising situations tend not to be fought for in the belief, often mistaken, that the next match will be different.

England tend to play their Test cricket in much the same way, often fighting back with far more conviction than when confronted by parity and the chance to initiate proceedings rather than react to them after valuable ground has been conceded.

Generalisations rarely lend themselves to mitigation though, and the course of the match may well have differed had Stewart not dropped Chanderpaul on the first morning when the left-hander was on nine, some 109 runs short of his eventual contribution.

Although not all were straightforward, it was just one of a dozen chances missed, half of them by a hapless Jack Russell. The West Indies is a notoriously difficult place to keep wicket, but Russell is now so low on confidence that there is little difference between him and his counterpart, David Williams, a wicketkeeper not only too short for Tests but lightweight, too.

Russell has been a staunch and patient servant of England, but his time has surely now passed. Asking Stewart to keep may be loaded with risk, but with Russell hopelessly out of sorts with both bat and gloves, it has become a necessity rather than an option.

However, on that pitch - its components seemingly atomised every time a ball was banged in hard - it was back to the mismatches of a decade ago, when English pea-shooters used to take on West Indian cannons.

Without grass to help Fraser and Dean Headley, and with the game too far out of reach by the time Croft, but not Phil Tufnell, started to become effective, England did not begin to compete until it was too late. As Lloyd put it: "We didn't play at our maximum when conditions dictated we had to play above our maximum to compete."

For Atherton's team, the imbalance between bad and good cricket, particularly among the batsmen, once more cost them the game. Mind you, as Lloyd pointed out: "Batting in those conditions was a severe examination especially against [Curtly] Ambrose and [Courtney] Walsh. Their difference in height and pace made it more difficult."

For that reason, Ramprakash's innings, particularly the one he played under great duress in the first stand when England needed to avoid the follow-on, was a revelation as, to a lesser extent, was Croft's.

Given his previously chequered history at this level, and against this opposition, Ramprakash's late germination allows England to leave here with more genuine optimism than might otherwise have been the case with three front-line batsmen, Atherton, Hussain and Thorpe, again having underperformed.

"The mood is much better than it was after the loss in Trinidad," confirmed Lloyd yesterday. "We know we've been turned over here, but there's a real roll-your-sleeves-up-and-let's-get-on-with-it optimism regarding the next Test in Barbados.

"As soon as we'd lost, I got everyone together in the dressing-room and told them to forget that game, it was finished. We all know we've got to get a positive attitude for Barbados, not next week, but now from today. We know we're every bit as good as this opposition, and we know we can come back at them again."

Whether the pitch in Bridgetown or whether Ambrose and Walsh will allow a repeat of four years ago, when England stormed to victory, is what an estimated 10,000 England supporters here are eagerly waiting to see.

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