FOR those of you who are labouring under the misapprehension that England are not a very good cricket team, enlighten yourselves with the following words from the chairman of selectors. 'Venus,' he said after yesterday's second Test, 'may be in the wrong juxtaposition with somewhere else'. As an explanation for seven consecutive Test match defeats, this leads some of us to the conclusion that the planet Ted Dexter was searching for must be the one he lives on.
Graham Gooch is not resigning, and Dexter believes that England will win the series '4-2.' The last time England won anything 4-2, it involved a fairly useful contribution from a Russian linesman, and given the dwindling number of Englishmen in the team these days, it might be an idea to select a Russian all-rounder for the next Test match at Trent Bridge next week.
Dexter's reference to the galaxy was accompanied by the comment that 'the whole of our national sport is not very well', as though results will pick up for everyone as soon as the Milky Way is spotted at right angles to Orion. So there we have it. When Patrick Moore is installed as Minister of Sport this morning, get your money on Gooch for the Ashes, Graham Taylor for the World Cup, and a Brit to win Wimbledon.
On a more earthy note, Midsummer's Day signalled only that English cricket remains in the grip of an icy winter, and that 0-4, the scoreline in the last Ashes series here, is a more realistic figure than Ted's 4-2. Yesterday, the Test and Cricket Board announced that it was sending a representative team to the Netherlands, as it did in 1989, when England even managed to lose to the Dutch. The parallels with 1989 (when England were also two down after two) are depressingly similar.
The big question yesterday was whether Dexter has a rival for the country's biggest optimist in the Queen's appointments' secretary. It was always a fond hope that the cricket would still be in progress for the Queen's arrival at tea on the fifth day, which indeed it was not, but England came within 15 minutes before going under by an innings and 62 runs.
The other question was whether the monarch (which was George V when England last beat Australia at Lord's) would bring along her sword, not so much for an 'arise Sir Graham' ceremony, as to offer it to the captain for the purposes of falling upon it. However, Gooch was putting a braver face upon it than he was before the game, when he said: 'if things don't improve, it's only right that someone else should do the job.'
'I will be captain at Trent Bridge,' he said. 'My priority is to turn this around, and while we are all a bit depressed, you have got to carry on and keep battling.' Ever the master of the understatement, Gooch said: 'the fact of the matter is that we are not playing very good cricket.'
The worst of England's cricket here was on Saturday, and yesterday's performance in keeping Australia waiting three and three quarter hours to hoover up their last seven wickets was, in the general context of things, not too bad. However, England's overall state of health is not quite as rude as Dexter would have us believe.
When invited to comment on whether there were any terrestrial reasons for England's run of defeats, he thought there was 'more of a problem with the bowling than the batting' (batting that was described on Saturday by Keith Fletcher as 'diabolical') that Australia had been fortunate to win the toss, and that England, in a Test match arranged for 15 sessions, had had 'a very good first hour.'
Had we improved since India? 'There was quite a difference between India and here,' he said. 'In India we were outspun . . .', at which point, one or two journalists who had been writing down little else but 'bowled Warne' (16 wickets in two Tests) and 'bowled May' (six of the 15 spinners' wickets here) failed to suppress a titter. 'I must have missed the joke,' Dexter said, and the comparison remained unfinished.
Perhaps he was going to say that Australia managed to win here, by an innings, with only one fit fast bowler. Merv Hughes did not take a wicket in England's second innings, but his bristling aggression played as large a part as the more subtle stuff from May and Warne, and one delivery yesterday that scorched the batting visor en route to the wicketkeeper underlined Hughes' hold over Graeme Hick.
Hick, unlike his palsied effort in the first innings, was out to a good ball from May yesterday, but it was the earlier dismissal of his overnight partner Mike Gatting which precipitated England's inevitable descent to defeat. Gatting was adjudged lbw to a leg break from Warne that would have missed the off stump, but no one else could justifiably claim a hard luck story when they returned to the pavilion yesterday.
For someone as high as No 7, Chris Lewis completed one of the most indescribably awful pairs in Test history when he gave May the charge and was stumped by yards, he dropped a simple catch on Friday, and for Lewis to retain his place at Trent Bridge, Venus would have to be in juxtaposition with the Isle of Wight.
Alec Stewart, despite playing well for his 63, unaccountably padded up to a ball from May that pitched on off stump, and would have hit middle. Neil Foster prodded a bat-pad to silly point, and Warne wrapped up the match by bowling Peter Such and Philip Tufnell round their legs with successive deliveries.
However, those who think that England are bound to make wholesale changes for the next Test, should digest Dexter's implication that no one should assume there is a better side to be picked. 'It is assumed that other players would have done better, but that is something we don't know,' he said. 'They may have done worse.'
He had a pop at a newspaper article from Derek Pringle yesterday, in which Pringle said that 'talent abounds among the counties' - the inference being 'what talent?' 'How much blame should the selectors take, then?' someone asked. 'How long is a piece of string?' Dexter said. The thought occurred, in connection with Dexter's neck, 'how long is a piece of rope?'
----------------------------------------------------------------- THE SEVEN-TEST HITCH ----------------------------------------------------------------- Date Versus Venue Lost by Aug 92 Pakistan The Oval 10 wickets Jan 93 India Calcutta 8 wickets Feb 93 India Madras inns and 22 runs Feb 93 India Bombay inns and 15 runs Mar 93 Sri Lanka Colombo 5 wickets Jun 93 Australia O Trafford 179 runs Jun 93 Australia Lord's inns and 62 runs -----------------------------------------------------------------
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content