Cricket: Unimaginative, careless, thoughtless and gutless

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The Independent Online
IT WAS like the re-run of an old movie. Until they were saved by a tropical storm, soft dismissals and poor thinking, most of which revolved around the apparently unfathomable guile of yet another leg spinner, had England teetering on the brink of what would have been a most undignified defeat.

The hardest part is to come up with a logical way of explaining why a side who had bowled so well for five hours on the first day and batted so splendidly all through the third, should have played such poor cricket for the rest of the match.

On those two days, they had shown they knew what they had to do with both bat and ball. For the rest of the match, they appeared to have little idea and yet they are experienced professional cricketers. This has been the story of England's cricket for far too long now.

The benchmark has been set by Mark Taylor's side. There is a clinical efficiency about their performances and, above all, they are consistent. Their batting only fell from grace for part of the first day and Steve Waugh and Ian Healy were on hand to take advantage when England's bowlers slipped up.

The Australian fielding was always better and the bowling more disciplined. Taylor himself is a much more flexible and intuitive captain than Alec Stewart, who had made no attempt try and unsettle Michael Slater when he made his hectic hundred on Monday. He captains without imagination.

It is hard to see how his side can hope to beat Australia unless they tighten their game considerably and bring more thought to what they are doing. With Graham Gooch, the manager, and Bob Cottam, the bowling coach, trying to keep a firm hand on things, they may improve, but it is still hard to see them bowling this Australian batting side out twice.

It is hard to fathom what compels Michael Atherton to play the hook regardless regardless of danger. After choosing three excellent balls to hook from Glenn McGrath, he was sucked into playing it again, at a ball which was not right for the stroke, and he gave fine leg catching practice. It was so irresponsible, especially from such a senior player who has now become McGrath's bunny.

Mark Butcher padded up without putting his feet into the right place. Nasser Hussain was made to look silly as he gave himself room to cut a googly without appearing to consider that it might not be a leg break.

Graham Thorpe pushed an entirely anonymous off break from Mark Waugh to short leg and Mark Ramprakash, suddenly and for no good reason, decided that the best way to play Stuart MacGill defensively was from down the pitch which was not the least extraordinary decision of the match.

Australia now appear to have rivalled England's foolhardiness by dropping MacGill for next Saturday's Perth Test match and picking in his place, the seamer-cum-off-spinner from Tasmania, Colin Miller. England will be ecstatic at not, for once in Australia, having to spot the googly.