Cricket: Winning is the first but now not the only thing

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S FIRST job in the Test series against New Zealand is to win, but the team must also strive to play the sort of cricket which makes an impression on the watching public. Do that at Edgbaston on Thursday and people will respond.

The series represents more than that, however. There is an opportunity to bounce back by beginning to build a squad for the future. Under a new captain, Nasser Hussain, there is bound to be renewed optimism, for that is human nature. I wish Nasser well for the future, I hope I am in his team.

I have mentioned here before that young players are not exactly knocking down the selectors' door but some promising ones have been mentioned and no doubt they will be involved in some capacity in the next few months. Followers of the column will know that I was extremely impressed with the pace and attitude of Alex Tudor during the tour of Australia, and he has started this summer by taking wickets for Surrey. Chris Read, the Nottinghamshire wicket-keeper, has been mentioned, too, and having played against him in the past week I can confirm he looks in good order with the bat and has good keeper's hands.

Others like Graeme Swann, from Northamptonshire, have also been mentioned but I simply do not know enough about his game to comment. The point is that England have to look not only to this series against New Zealand but to the one against South Africa in the winter, to West Indies next summer and as far ahead as Australia in 2001. There will be the nucleus of a squad in mind but there is a chance to have a look at other players, if not to play them immediately then to give them experience of being around England.

This would seem to be the time to do this in the wake of the Ashes and the World Cup. It is not to dismiss New Zealand, who appear to have assembled a squad of 13 or 14 players 18 months or so ago and stuck by them. They might not be the most spectacular side on paper but they have many worthwhile cricketers.

Their captain, Stephen Fleming, is an attractive batsman and Nathan Astle might not have had a successful World Cup but is a capable player in the middle order. Chris Cairns is an accomplished all-rounder and Simon Doull will join the recent success, Geoff Allott, in sharing the new ball. The left-arm spinner, Daniel Vettori, is only 21 but has a wealth of experience behind him already.

England should still start favourites for the series at home - having beaten New Zealand away a couple of winters ago - but the opposition will not be about to make it easy. They will make run scoring difficult and, while they have not won many Test matches lately, they know how to defend and they give all sides a run for their money.

A new series is always a chance for a new start, though I am not exactly filled with optimism about the state of the game. Reflecting awhile this week I could not help but conclude that much of English county cricket remains very sterotyped. Much of it is played on green, damp wickets which encourage a certain type of bowling and discourage others. The sadness is that the point could probably have been made 10 years ago. Four-day cricket is a terrific idea, but too many matches are still finishing in not many more than two days.

I wonder sometimes about our approach to coaching and how it should be applied to young players. Players need to be coached because they need technical skills, but they must not have their individual flair coached out of them. If you take 10 players who are all coached to a certain standard I suppose you might get six who would make it at a certain level without being spectacular. Take 10 players who are uncoached to all intents and purposes - but are nurtured and enthused - and you might get one or two diamonds. In our conformity sometimes we can be very narrow-minded.

It will be interesting to chart the progress of Andrew Flintoff. He was rightly given licence during the World Cup and he did not come off. But he can hit a ball as powerfully as anybody I have seen, and you have to be prepared for him to fail. I hope he is encouraged.

The dearth of young spinners is still a cause for grave concern. Ian Salisbury is still the only English wrist spinner playing regularly. I know there are national initiatives in this regard and they cannot come to fruition quickly enough. I learned much about wrist spin in a hour during a session with the Australian former leggie, Peter Philpott, last winter.

He was talking about bowling leg spin (for weeks afterwards we were having a go at wrist spin in the nets), but knowing how to bowl it a bit means you know how to play it a bit.