Cricket: Tudor strikes a blow for the morning workers

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The Independent Online
IT WOULD be splendid, really it would, to claim some credit for the wonderful, unique innings played by Alex Tudor in the First Test. After all we have been regular net partners since the start of the Ashes tour in Australia last winter.

Almost every day on which England have trained since, we have thrown balls at each other. I grabbed him quite early on that tour, noticing that like me he was one for trying to get to nets early. His height and bounce while bowling would be good for my batting practice, I felt, and he was keen to improve his batting, which he took very seriously.

Indeed, I had first noticed him back in 1995, the season he made his debut as a 17-year-old for Surrey. He came to Lord's with Surrey to play Middlesex in the Championship. They had Carl Rackemann and Joey Benjamin in the side, I faced them all and Alex was the best of the three that day. He had something as a fast bowler from the start.

Since then, I have always kept an eye on him and in Australia we got to know each other better. He is a calm man, a sensible thinker who is prepared to work hard. In this column in the past I have observed that some young players coming into the game are prepared to accept things too easily. Not Alex Tudor.

So when we rolled up to Edgbaston for the First Test against New Zealand he and I merely resumed where we had left off in Australia in January. We were there at the nets at 8.30am every day. He would throw balls at me and I would throw a few at him. Over the months he has spotted a few things in my batting, I have noticed some points about his bowling. And he has always wanted to bat.

And then came the match. An unbeaten 32 in the first innings on an uncertain pitch in swinging conditions was followed by his 99 not out in the second, a score and a performance which have already become legendary. It was the highest score by a nightwatchman playing for England, overtaking Harold Larwood's 98 back in 1932-33, it won the match and Alex the award for being the man of it.

He played his natural game. He made 40-odd against Middlesex last year as it happened so I was aware what he could do through the covers and by using his height to get over the ball. He struck the ball venomously, he played with freedom and New Zealand probably did not know what had hit them. Maybe they made the mistake of underrating him. He reached 30 in no time and by then it was too late. Sure he played and missed, but there were 21 fours, most of them emanating from legitimate shots. Thunderous stuff.

As I said then, it would have been gratifying to be able to claim: "That's my boy out there," to suggest that I was the one who taught him to play like that. Not so, I'm afraid. It was down to Alex. We might have netted together, but he has worked things out for himself.

It was one of the truly memorable days and for Alex I believe it will be just the start. It will be as a bowler that he makes his name. Again, regular readers of this column will know how highly I rate him. He has pace, and comes down from a good height. Importantly, he also has the attitude to match. He did not have much bowling at Edgbaston but he is only 21, let us not forget, and he has it in him to prosper in the years ahead. His batting, probably at number eight, will be another asset. We shall continue to be there at 8.30 in the morning together.

The win that the Tudor innings set up was precisely what England needed. So many times during the course of a match which lasted only two and a half days we seemed to be out of it. Do not forget we lost five wickets before we reached 50 in the first innings. We got out of it, Nasser Hussain, the new captain, was inspirational in his approach. It goes without saying that this is what all of England craved - a resounding win in an exciting fashion. We have to build on this, make sure it is not another false dawn and take the battle to the New Zealanders for the rest of the series - such a victory by such a margin may have demoralised them. I only wish the Lord's Test was starting this week.

Finally, some people may already have seen the official ECB-Channel 4 Magazine which accompanies the Test series. It contains an article about England's three current early middle order batsmen, Hussain, Graham Thorpe and myself. Not only that but there is a photograph of the three of us wearing dark suits and glasses striding purposefully in a line across a cricket outfield. Mean, moody, magnificent, said somebody. Done purely for the purposes of promoting the game, I assure you. Which Alex Tudor did regally eight days ago.