Cricket: Riddle of the control freaks

Henry Blofeld in Bridgetown says that England's bowlers are maddeningly unreliable
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The Independent Online
A TRULY masterful bowling display by England yesterday should not be allowed to mask the equally awful one the night before. The onslaught launched by the West Indies openers, Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace, provided the most glorious entertainment on Friday night, but at the same time it underlined the lack of professional competence which sometimes besets England's cricket.

This match is being played on a superb batting pitch, the sort on which exuberant West Indian batsmen are likely to destroy any attack given half a chance, and at the start of the innings two of England's three seamers played into their hands. The essential requirement was tight, disciplined bowling to a strict length and line, allowing no freedom. The bowlers knew that Lambert and Wallace were both dashers and they had to try to frustrate them into losing patience and getting themselves out.

This lesson should have been learned from Trinidad, where both Dean Headley and Andrew Caddick were so inconsistent and Angus Fraser provided the example and the inspiration. Headley and Caddick knew what was wanted at the start of the West Indian innings, but once again they proved to be woefully incompetent. Yesterday's much improved efforts simply reinforced the frustrations of Friday night.

Then, Caddick cut as insecure a figure on the cricket field as one has ever seen. At his best - yesterday - he is a splendid bowler; on Friday he was at his worst: a nervous beginner. It may be that when he feels under great pressure he suffers from stage fright. Whatever it is, his control disappears and he is a liability. He again let England down badly at a crucial moment.In the burning crucible of Test cricket which Kensington Oval became on Friday evening, the first requirement is for players who can be relied upon to produce their best under the greatest pressure.

As this tour has gone on, one has become more and more worried by Headley. For all his undoubted talent, he is such an untidy bowler and he appears to do so little about it. To start with, he has been completely unable to cure his no-ball problem - something for which the coaches must share some blame. His first over was a disgrace. Half- volleys and long hops proliferated, there were two no-balls and 11 runs were presented to Lambert and Wallace on a silver salver with watercress round it. His first two overs cost 19 runs and he appeared to have forgotten everything he has ever learned about control. He raced in as if he was a genuine fast bowler who wanted to teach the two new openers a lesson.

Headley is not a genuine fast bowler; he never has been and never will be. He is a fast medium seamer whose greatest asset should be his control. On Friday, his thinking was as wild and uncontrolled as his bowling. When he came back for his second spell, he again charged in mindlessly to Wallace who, with an uncomplicated disdain, kept driving him back over his head for four. Headley's stupid reaction was to allow himself to get involved in a slanging match with Wallace.

Headley was lucky to have the last word when Wallace, although a long way forward, was given out lbw. It was unforgivable that Mike Atherton seemed to join in the general hostility to Wallace.

I hope the management spoke strong words to Headley overnight. He should have been told to pull himself together and get on with the job he was brought here to do. Thankfully, the evidence on the third morning suggested this might have happened. He changed the course of the match by collecting the crucial scalp of Brian Lara and gave away only nine runs.

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