Cricket / Texaco Trophy: Sinking standards in the field

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IT WILL have been an entertaining evening's viewing for the Aussies who, during England's last trip Down Under, unfurled a banner at the Melbourne Test announcing the 'Phil Tufnell Fielding Academy'. Two years on and the Poms still can't field . . .

That was the impression England gave yesterday, barely a fortnight after Keith Fletcher had stressed that he would be concentrating on improving the team's fielding after their inept winter display.

The most startling aspect was the performance of Graham Thorpe, one of the young turks whose selection was aided by his dashing reputation as a leaping, diving cross between a salmon and a gazelle. Twice in half an hour he dropped David Boon at backward point as he slashed at Dermot Reeve. Any complaint the bowler may have ventured back in the dressing room was promptly cut short when he gave Boon his third escape in 14 runs, off the same shot.

Alec Stewart was the first culprit when he dropped Mark Waugh down the legside, involuntarily atoning for the earlier injustice dealt Matthew Hayden when Stewart caught him off his body.

Four chances were taken: Graham Gooch, after an unconvincing wait, clutched a skier and Stewart took two others. One of those, a stunning diving catch to dismiss Mark Waugh, was ill-advised for all its brilliance, being riskily poached from the trusty hands of Graeme Hick at first slip. Australia's catching was highlighted by Hayden's amazing one-handed jumping catch at deep cover late in the day.

Equally worrying was the difference in standard of the ground fielding. First Thorpe and Dominic Cork allowed the ball to pass between them for four when either could have stopped it, then, when Australia fielded, Hayden made a brilliant stop and pick-up that saved two runs.

Hayden showed at Hove last week that he is equally impressive in the slips, where Australia are spoilt for choice with Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh, at one and two, two of the best half-dozen slip fielders in the game.

Graeme Hick can also be counted in that standard, but who will be exchanging gossip with him in the cordon at Old Trafford on 3 June is anyone's guess. Mind you, England have to find the edge first.