Cricket: Tourists take their eyes off the ball

Click to follow
There is nothing more amusing in sport than when one team of hardened professionals yell "cheat" and "foul" with considerable indignation at the other. The Australians have probably spent too much time protesting that the late change of Test pitch was funny business. Not that they have said that, in so many words, of course.

The business of preparing pitches to suit the home side's bowlers has almost certainly been going on as long as the game itself. When England tour Australia, South Africa or the West Indies they expect to find surfaces which help Shane Warne, Allan Donald and the latest bunch of West Indian fast bowlers.

As it happens, England have probably been a little slow to catch on and judging from the evidence of this case are not quite certain how best to go about it. The chairman of the selectors being rung while holidaying in Spain and summoned home has all the makings of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera.

I would be highly surprised if a nudge was not as good as a wink and that someone, somewhere feared that the pitch that never was would have suited Warne better than the pitch that is. Once again, of course, no one was actually going to say it, or admit to saying it.

The major piece of evidence is that David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, was actually seen having a conversation in the middle of Headingley with - and wait for it - Harry Brind, the official inspector of pitches. It's a bit like the Mikado having a word in the ear of the Lord High Executioner.

It was gratifying to see that the Australians were so shocked to find themselves claiming the moral high ground that they allowed it to deflect them from their purpose. After they had won the toss and put England in on a green pitch, they wasted it. Glenn McGrath and Paul Reiffel bowled too short and too wide early on - how often has one made the same criticism about England's bowlers?

Alas, England did not profit quite as they might have done. Mark Butcher, who gained in confidence and composure with every outing, went to a lucky reflex catch at short leg , Alec Stewart did not get on top of a short one as he usually does, and Nasser Hussain played a careless stroke outside off stump.

Double trouble: The England batsman Nasser Hussain is struck by a delivery from Paul Reiffel during the first day of the fourth Test at Headingley yesterday Photograph: David Ashdown

Comments