CRICKET : Twenty ways to win back the Ashes

Graeme Wright, a former editor of Wisden, suggests a manifesto for the future
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1 Cut out the complacency: the attitude that England's problems are nothing that a bit of inspiration, some confidence, the rub of the green or a day at the beach won't put right. England stopped the rot in Sydney, but they didn't win the Test mat ch. Another frequently heard platitude is that these things go in cycles. So did the decline and fall of the Roman Empire until it reached such a state that the cycles were freewheeling downhill all the way.

2 Encourage England's county system to be unashamedly elitist. At present, it is a great leveller. There is no shortage of good young cricketers being prepared by the schools and clubs, but instead of bringing on good, young cricketers in a competitive framework, the counties hold them back while they learn their place, and also bad cricketing practices. Not that they practise enough, but that's another matter.

3 The County Championship has to become a satisfactory first-class competition for producing Test cricketers. Instead of being the final step up the pyramid, it is a broad plateau on which mediocrity flourishes. It is part of a social fabric in decline, and however sadly one views this, the time has come to restructure the Championship so that there are no easy games, no easy runs and no easy wickets. In 1994, for example, Mike Gatting hit five hundreds and averaged 60.39 for Middlesex in the Championship; only Graham Gooch and Brian Lara scored more runs in all first-class cricket. Gatting's failure in the Tests in Australia illustrates the gap between County Championship and Test cricket. A two-division Championship, with relegation and promotion, would concentrate the minds and attitudes of county players and officials.

4 Appoint at least one current county cricketer, in addition to the England captain, as a national selector.

5 Bring back the honourable draw. Because a draw warrants no points in the County Championship, England's cricketers seem to have forgotten that defeat is not the only option when the game cannot be won. As we were reminded by his death recently, Peter May batted five minutes short of 10 hours to save England from defeat by West Indies in 1957. A draw in Brisbane or Melbourne would have kept England in contention to win back the Ashes.

6 Slim down England's unwieldy cricket bureaucracy. Reform of the administrative structure has been proposed but has yet to be implemented. Whereas the power at present lies with the first-class counties, through the Test and County Cricket Board, the game needs a single national body responsible for all cricket from the grass roots to the Test team. Implementation of such reform requires men of intellect and vision, not committee men for whom the national interest is secondary to local self-interest.

7Allow more time for coaching and practice. At all levels, too much cricket is played in England and not enough time is given to preparation. When basic mistakes are being made in batting, bowling and fielding by the Test team, the standard of coaching at county level must be questioned. As other countries have shown, coaching can be imaginative as well as instructive.

8Plan ahead. England went to Australia poorly prepared. Knowing that their greatest threat would come from the leg-spin and enigma variations of Shane Warne, couldn't the TCCB have employed the services of, say, the Pakistan leg-spinners, Abdul Qadir andMushtaq Ahmed, for coaching seminars last summer?

9Eliminate pad play. This is not a criticism of English umpiring, but by giving the benefit of the doubt to batsmen more often than appears to be the case overseas - particularly for England's batsmen - the umpires' benevolence has promoted in county cricket an unhealthy amount of pad play. Umpires overseas are generally less reflective when the ball hits an England batsman's out-thrust pad.

10 Prohibit the prod. Pad play in turn has brought about a decline in footwork and has led to the defensive, "half-forward" pushing out of bat and pad to counter spin and movement off the seam. as Darren Gough showed so effectively in Sydney, attack can be the best method of defence.

11 Prepare pitches that start a match hard and dry, so that the ball "comes on to'' the bat and encourages stroke play. Too often county pitches begin damp from over-watering. When the bounce is low and the turn slow, the batsman can wait at the crease for the ball instead of having to make decisive movements out of his ground or back towards his stumps. Futhermore, sluggish pitches encourage neither fast bowlers nor spin bowlers. Much damage was done by the decision in 1981 to cover pitches in county cricket. England had already lost this natural advantage in Test cricket and batsmen and bowlers then lost the opportunity to hone their skills in conditions not always conducive to their preferred methods. Uncovered pitches made them better all-round players, on good pitches as well as bad ones. One reason given for the decision was financial, but as a reverend gentleman wrote in 1757: "We think if we get more money we secure all things.'' It is not always so.

12Get bowlers taking wickets again. One-day cricket has made them too concerned with containment, and the arts of swing, spin and flight have suffered as a consequence. Watching county cricket, I despair at the number of balls the batsmen don't have to play. At Test level such deliveries are rare from opposition bowlers. Craig McDermott's bowling for Australia throughout the series has epitomised this.

13Smarten up the fielding. Overall it is passive rather than aggressive. Too often a fielder waits for the ball to come to him, which allows the hare-like Australian batsmen an extra run. Running in to meet the ball and sending in a fast, accurate returnwould both prevent this.

14Dictate the tempo. Following on from the previous point, England's cricket is generally too soft. Where Australian (and not only Australian) batsmen manage two runs, taking the first run with urgency, England's batsmen canter through for a gentle single. It is worth reflecting that one cricketer who creates pressure situations as batsman and fielder, Neil Fairbrother, has only just been drafted into the touring team.

15Give sports psychology its due. The national psyche is not conditioned to winning, and this is reflected in the cricket team. Winning positions have been allowed to slip away; if body-language is any indication, the England players in Australia look tohave lacked self-motivation. Too much has been expected of Mike Atherton, a young captain, to raise his players' spirits. These are grown men, supposedly professional sportsmen, who should not need a gaffer to jolly them along as if they were tradesmen or labourers. If they do need motivation, the time is right to bring in a professional in order to provide it.

16 Give the work ethic its due, too. As preached and practised by Mickey Stewart, this was deprecated by press and public alike, yet the much-vaunted Academy of Cricket in Australia sets great store by physical and mental training. It may not be the English way, but it's a winning way.

17Develop an international perspective, something that the English as a nation tend to lack. In cricket they have fallen behind their competitors, not only in cricketing skills but also in cricketing intelligence. The selection of two fast bowlers of little subtlety in Devon Malcolm and Martin McCague suggested anticipation of hard, fast pitches, the like of which are rare now in Australia. The very fact that Australia build their attack around spin and accurate fast-medium bowling should have alerted England's selectors to this. It is still hard to credit that McCague was selected ahead of Angus Fraser, another of the Sydney heroes.

18 Play the game at county level with respect for its spirit and its customers. Slow over-rates, tardy changeovers when batsmen are out, belated appearances after intervals, unwillingness to play when conditions are even mildly unpleasant . . . all thesenegative factors contribute to a mental framework that has England's cricketers initially trailing in the wake of the competitive Australians.

19Give the schools a better chance. While not subscribing to the myth that schools cricket is in decline, it is relevant that facilities for cricket in state schools are minimal. This is more a problem for government than for cricket, and no doubt the government too will hide behind its unwieldy bureaucracy. The private schools have facilities in abundance yet produce fewer Test players these days. It may be that these players, often well coached, do not want to become enmeshed in the professional county system that now prevails. Youth must have its day or it will go away.

20Invite Shane Warne on to Blind Date and pack him off on a long journey with Elizabeth Hurley . . . or Anneka Rice . . . or anyone!

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