Cricket World Cup: Change for the better, not for its own sake

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The Independent Online
NOBODY SHOULD underestimate the massive disappointment of England's elimination from the World Cup. But it should be remembered that disappointment is not the same as catastrophe. Defeat has come on home soil, a team had been picked to take advantage of that and the campaign had been 18 months in the planning. The players, not only those in the squad but English professionals at large, felt the side had a good chance of winning.

Yet they failed. In the end it was a large margin against India. But - and again it is best not to forget these things - there were key turning points. England were 70 for 2 when the rain came at Edgbaston on Saturday night. Then Nasser Hussain got out. That was a crucial point.

If the teams had come off when the light started to go and the rain began England would have been in a much better frame of mind. The next morning it got worse still. I was watching at home and happened to mention to my wife as Javagal Srinath bowled round the wicket and wide of the crease to the left-handed Graham Thorpe how difficult he was making it for himself to gain an lbw verdict.

He duly gained one and if it looked on subsequent replay as though it might have been missing leg the umpire's first and only look might have indicated otherwise. It was another big blow. It was then, as I said last week, that numbers six, seven and eight had to contribute. They did not, and though that proved greatly significant I don't go along with the view that Andy Flintoff should have played much differently. Attacking is his game.

India through, England out. A huge disappointment then, but when pundits talk of the wider implications they are in danger of overblowing the point. The game is not in trouble. The team won three games out of five. What we did not do was perform when we needed to - and that is not a new thing.

The call for wholesale changes to the side isn't a new thing either and nor, given the circumstances of England's knock-out and the state of the domestic game, is it exactly realistic. There are several young players out there just below or just over 20 but sadly I do not see a whole lot of them throwing their hats into the selectors' ring.

Say what you want about the County Championship, about the manner in which it offers a comfort zone and too much soft cricket, but it is the competition in which young players have to perform to gain attention. This is a case of regular achievement, of consistent, hungry performance.

Without it, selectors have nothing to judge by. They cannot take a gamble on potential alone. When a player has established himself at international level he may have a different approach to the county grind.

There are some who are born for the international arena (I always felt that Robin Smith, for instance, was truly pumped up for Test matches, and David Gower was similarly a big-time player), there are others (Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting) who like to score whenever and wherever they bat. I like to put myself in the latter category.

But before he can do any of that a player has to perform for his county. It is the only way. Not too much should be read into A tours. They can be notoriously deceptive in terms of elevating players because of the quality of the opposition which is often encountered. Having said which I think they might be looking to one fundamental change at least. If I am picked for the Test series against New Zealand then I fully expect to be playing under Alec Stewart's captaincy again. Nothing that has happened recently, and certainly none of the conjecture about my own prospects of being captain, have remotely altered my view of him as "the Gaffer".

But events have shown that being captain, opening batsman and wicketkeeper is an onerous burden. Alec and David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, who will also be the series manager against New Zealand, will talk next week and it is perhaps not difficult to guess the conclusion. The wicketkeeping may be the aspect of his game to go and the search will begin for a successor.

There are several candidates. New Zealand will be a tough series but equally it may just be the chance to blood somebody who's showing the right stuff, a young keeper, say, like Chris Read, of Nottinghamshire.

As for other young players, it is not, as I have said, an entirely bare cupboard; it is simply not one at present stuffed with runs and wickets. One player of whom I am a big fan, as readers last winter will know, is Alex Tudor, a fast bowler with pace and a big future.

So, the World Cup goes on without the hosts. It is not ideal but it will blow over. There will be some good cricket played in the next two weeks, it will be watched and enjoyed, watchable and enjoyable.