Cricket World Cup: Maynard enters England equation

Stephen Brenkley says the favourites may be challenged by a late dark horse
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The Independent Online
IMAGES OF England in the World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston insist on recurring. In one, they are batting first, they lose a flurry of early wickets but they consolidate, refuse to panic, play a few maidens, rebuild from hopelessness, await their chance, never submit and somehow win. A grateful nation celebrates. In another, they are batting second, play themselves into a winning position, are then thrust into a losing one, fight back again to the very brink of triumph but somehow lose. A grateful nation commiserates.

They are pleasant images, sweet dreams, but no more than that because, as all England's followers know, their team could have achieved none of those things.

Watching the gripping scenes from Birmingham between Australia and South Africa - for it was they - seemed indeed to amplify the plight. Heroes or, at least, players prepared to lay down their bat for the cause, as Allan Donald did unavailingly at the last, were all around.

It is a school of thought that failure to progress beyond the first stage of the World Cup should not be confused with the apparent advance in the Test side's fortunes. They can and they ought. The one-day team share the Test side's shortcomings: they were merely crystallised in 50-over matches. The Test team won a five-match rubber last summer but a side incapable of building on the fortitude and fortune they had then, as demonstrated a few months later in the Ashes series, truly are in need of change. Whither England's heroes?

During the next week, the perpetual quest will continue. Partly because there is a World Cup going on, partly because any decisions are too important to be rushed, the names of the England captain and coach for the series against New Zealand, which begins a week on Thursday, have still to be announced. They will be finally nailed down by Friday at the latest and two days later the team for the First Test will be declared.

Interviews, official and unofficial, have been conducted; chats, formal and informal have taken place. There are more to come this week and though the wind is blowing in the direction of Duncan Fletcher, the Zimbabwean, as coach in succession to David Lloyd, and Nasser Hussain, one of the few assured of his place in the side, as captain to replace Alec Stewart, it has not reached gale proportions.

The delay permitted the legitimate voicing of other candidates for the captaincy. With the Fletcher bandwagon gathering sustained momentum the name of Matthew Maynard was given serious credence, not for the first time, as a possible new-broom captain. Fletcher, it is known, is a great admirer of Maynard. Together at Glamorgan they forged a motivational and tactical partnership as well as a winning team. If one was the new coach, he might conceivably request his own captain. Were it to be denied would he consider rejecting the job offer? Improbable, but hardly a smooth start.

This scenario is complicated by the nature of the appointments. The coach's post is in the gift of the England Management Advisory Committee, the captain is appointed by the England team selection panel. Thus, Emac can make no promises and David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, is not of a mind to go along with such thinking.

"No decisions have yet been made," he said yesterday. "I would not envisage the captain being named until after the coach has been appointed because he should have some input. I have always been an admirer of Matthew as captain and player but that would mean the captain coming out of the present set-up. I am of the view that you should name your best 11 and then come up with the captain."

If this seems to eliminate Maynard from further discussion, there are two other selectors, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, who might be divided by county association between Hussain (Essex) and Mark Ramprakash (Middlesex). Both Hussain and Ramprakash were interviewed at Lord's on Friday and asked their thoughts about the captaincy and what it entailed (it is to be hoped that both replied it is the biggest and most significant prize in English sport and they would give an arm for it). If there is a determination that Stewart should go, and we appear to be riding high in scapegoat country, then Maynard might come through as a compromise candidate. That, as they will know, is no way to make the appointment, not if you want to find heroes.

Sometime this week - and they can be excused the delay - those who run English cricket must state unequivocally why they have chosen their respective candidates. In appointing the coach they must, if it is Fletcher, outline why they assume a non-Englishman who never played Test cricket has it in him to make England count again. That had better be good because the opprobrium that awaits in the event of Fletcher not being up to it will make the present criticism seem like the notices given by salivating critics to Nicole Kidman's stage performance in London last year.

The announcement of the captain, and Graveney is likely to break the final sad news to Stewart in the next two days, should be accompanied by a rider about his importance and his power. It has been fascinating to listen to David Lloyd since his departure as coach. He has repeatedly mentioned that it is the captain who really matters. If the selectors declare Hussain to be their man they might like to tell us why he was not their man a year ago when Stewart just got the nod. If it is Ramprakash, they should confide what he has learned as a cricketer leading other cricketers.

If it is Maynard, then we will know that Graveney and his men have worn their hair shirts and are taking a gamble in another direction. Their likely team thereafter would be worth hearing. But one thing at a time.