Cricket: Seven batsmen, seven failures

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA ARE too good for England, much too good. England can bat, can bowl and can field, but they can't bat, or bowl, or field as well as the Aussies. We knew this before the series began, but hope had triumphed over experience until England came to Perth and were bowled out 30 minutes after lunch for 112, leaving Australia time to accumulate 150 for 3.

Australia's batsmen did play and miss; England's played and unerringly edged the ball to Ian Healy, who took five catches behind the wicket, or to first and second slip. They have the endemic bad luck of a bunch of losers. But it is lack of confidence, and experience of such a hard, bouncy wicket - not luck - that was the cause of England's dispiriting performance.

This isn't a catastrophe. It's only a game of cricket, but to watch the team score the third-lowest total in the history of the WACA was enough to make an England fan seek out a dark place and think about a quiet blub. And, after a day in which he was out for a second ball duck and dropped two slip catches, Graeme Hick, playing for the wounded Graham Thorpe, ought to ask if he couldn't join in.

The pity of it was that the day had begun with such promise. The single issue that has animated conversation has been whether England's selectors would defy their instinctive conservatism and choose Alex Tudor, the lanky 21-year-old Surrey fast bowler to exploit the pacey WACA wicket.

The pessimism of the majority was confounded. Not without some trepidation, the selectors decided to back a hunch, and before play began England's players trooped out to watch Alec Stewart give Tudor his England cap, which he held over his heart as the photographers recorded the occasion.

Perhaps that was all we would see of Tudor on the first day of the Second Test. We knew England were batting because Stewart signalled the news to the dressing room, but Ian Chappell, interviewing the captains on television, turned to question Mark Taylor first, indicating that he had won the the toss. England were not batting out of choice - though Graham Gooch, the tour manager, later indicated that they would have done so anyway.

England believed they had prepared well. The coaches had done their stuff in the nets; the physio and the dietician had moulded the players into shape, except for Thorpe, of course, whose fragile back had not survived the arduous, near-five hour flight from the east coast. (He is consulting specialists.) But at the end of the day, a dejected Gooch said: "You can talk as much as you want, but when they cross the white line, they have to play the game themselves."

The conditions were fine: bright light, clear sky, a breeze to temper the 31-degree heat in a ground that would fill to half its 30,000 capacity by lunch. The WACA - dominated by six huge lighting towers - is not architecturally distinguished. The speed of the wicket is what it is famous for, and, having fallen into disrepute recently, its has been carefully restored, like a heritage site. This was the first outing on a new, hard pitch, light brown in colour, which should help fast bowlers and batsmen with confidence to play their shots. England's batsmen would have talked a great deal about the wicket.

But when Michael Atherton and Mark Butcher crossed the white line, the careful preparation proved to be of precious little help. Butcher was the first to go, in the fourth over, caught by Ian Healy behind the wicket, attempting to drive a good length ball from Damien Fleming.

Atherton, meanwhile, was proceeding with caution - no hooking here - until the seventh over when Glenn McGrath reminded him of his vulnerability by finding an edge which fell short of second slip. Later in the over, Atherton shuffled forward without conviction, held out his bat, and Healy took a second catch. This was his third dismissal by McGrath in three innings in this series, and the 12th in nine Tests. McGrath now has the former England captain mesmerised.

In the 11th over, Nasser Hussain was drawn forward by McGrath to give Healy his third catch; at 19 for 3 England were on the edge, although Stewart was showing what could be done by a batsman willing to trust the true quality of the wicket and play attacking shots. Stewart caused grave offence to the great McGrath, off driving, pulling and glancing him for boundaries off successive balls to bring up the 50 in the 15th over.

Mark Ramprakash had survived a fearful blow from McGrath, who is making a custom of this. The last time England played here he beamed Ramprakash, whose helmet disintegrated under the force. This time a bouncer hit his shoulder and cannoned into his chin. Blood spattered his shirt and the cut needed six stitches at lunch.

By which time England had toppled over the edge. McGrath bowled Stewart through the gate. John Crawley played a thoughtless cut to second slip, and Hick, like a man still suffering from jet lag, hardly moved his feet, held out his bat, and invited the edge to Healy. England had picked seven batsmen, six were out and only two had reached double figures.

By the time Ramprakash was undone by the extra bounce, Cork had succumbed, caught at first slip. Then Darren Gough was caught at second slip and Alan Mullally by the wicket keeper. Nine wickets had fallen to snicks and edges, and the only heartening sight had been Tudor, who was fearless when facing McGrath, and who played some elegant shots to celebrate his debut.

Without getting much movement, Australia had bowled a consistent line and length with single-minded hostility. England had once more exhibited a crippling lack of conviction. It is hard to know how to encourage it. Therapy maybe? Hypnotism? Best of all would be a pill - the sportsman's Viagra.

Tudor may have created a record by making his debut as a batsman and a bowler before tea on the first day of a Test, coming on in the 11th over, by which time Ben Hollioake, substituting for Ramprakash, had dropped a difficult chance from Michael Slater, off Gough. That was the break England needed, but which did not come.

Slater lived dangerously off Tudor, who ambles back to his mark like a West Indian quick - he was born in West London, son of a West Indian - and bowls at a pace which is not far short of theirs. In one Tudor over, Slater and Taylor scored 14 runs, and Slater was dropped by Hick.

Another Slater slash found Butcher at third slip instead of the gap, but whetever adrenalin that caused to run dried up two overs later when Taylor misread Gough's slower ball and gave Hick an easy chance. When he dropped it, you felt very cross, and somewhat sorry. Hick felt a great injustice when he was left out of the team, and here he demonstrated why it was quite right to do so.

Taylor, who was 38, went on to 61 before he edged to the keeper himself, but Australia were already 26 ahead by then, having nearly completed a good day's work which showed all the professionalism that England only aspire to.


First day; Australia won toss

England - First Innings

M A Butcher c Healy b Fleming 0

(Edges drive to keeper; 13 min, 10 balls)

M A Atherton c Healy b McGrath 1

(Shuffles forward and edges catch to keeper; 26 min, 18 balls)

N Hussain c Healy b McGrath 6

(Drawn forward and gives thin edge to keeper; 30 min, 24 balls)

*A J Stewart b McGrath 38

(Bowled through the gate; 59 min, 29 balls, 5 fours)

M R Ramprakash c Taylor b Fleming 26

(Surprised by extra bounce, edges to first slip; 98 min, 60 balls, 2 fours)

J P Crawley c M Waugh b Gillespie 4

(Casual cut to second slip; 23 min, 17 balls)

G A Hick c Healy b Gillespie 0

(Immobile defensive shot edged to keeper; 2 min, 2 balls)

D G Cork c Taylor b Fleming 2

(Reaches forward and edges outswinger; 14 min, 13 balls)

A J Tudor not out 18

(50 min, 30 balls, 1 four)

D Gough c M Waugh b Fleming 11

(Slash snicked to second slip; 24 min, 24 balls)

A D Mullally c Healy b Fleming 0

(Flashing, edges to keeper; 10min, 9 balls)

Extras (lb2,w2,nb2) 6

Total (178 min, 39 overs) 112

Fall: 1-2 (Butcher), 2-4 (Atherton), 3-19 (Hussain), 4-62 (Stewart), 5-74 (Crawley), 6-74 (Hick), 7-81 (Cork), 8-90 (Ramprakash), 9-108 (Gough), 10-112 (Mullally).

Bowling: McGrath 16-4-37-3 (w1) (11-4-26-3; 5-0-11-0); Fleming 14-3-46- 5 (nb1) (7-1-26-1; 7-2-20-4); Gillespie 7-0-23-2 (nb1) (5-0-18-2; 2-0- 5-0); Miller 2-0-4-0 (one spell).

Progress: 50 in 71 mins, 15 overs. Lunch 76-6 (Ramprakash 22, Cork 0) 25 overs. 100 in 159 mins, 34.3 overs. Innings closed 2.08pm.

Australia - First innings

*M A Taylor c Stewart b Cork 61

(Thing edge to keeper playing forward; 188 mins, 145 balls, 6 fours)

M J Slater c Butcher b Gough 34

(Cut hard to third slip103 mins, 70 balls, 6 fours)

J L Langer c Crawley b Ramprakash 15

(Sweep shot off gloves to short leg; 56 mins, 40 balls, 2 fours)

M E Waugh not out 19

(52 mins, 27 balls, 3 fours)

J N Gillespie not out 5

(24 mins, 21 balls)

Extras (b1, lb7, nb8) 16

Total (for 3, 213 mins, 49 overs) 150

Fall: 1-81 (Slater), 2-115 (Langer), 3-138 (Taylor).

To bat: S R Waugh, R T Ponting, I A Healy, C R Miller, D W Fleming, G D McGrath.

Bowling: Gough 10-1-31-1 (nb2) (5-1-18-0; 5-0-13-1); Cork 17-3-43-1 (nb3) (6-1-11-0; 7-1-23-0; 4-1-9-1); Tudor 10-2-39-0 (nb3) (6-1-28-0; 4-1-11- 0); Mullally 10-5-17-0 (5-3-7-0; 5-2-10-0); Ramprakash 2-0-12-1 (one spell).

Progress: Tea 35-0 (Taylor 16, Slater 16) 13 overs; 50 in 68 mins, 16.3 overs; 100 in 144 mins, 33.3 overs; 150 in 213 mins, 48.5 overs.

Taylor 50: 158 mins, 122 balls, 5 fours.

Umpires: D J Harper and S Venkataraghavan. TV Replay Umpire: T A Prue.

Match Referee: J R Reid. Compiled by Jo King