Bright new Tudor era on the horizon

Surrey paceman is close to a Test recall. Stephen Fay hears how he regained his rhythm and cast off the injury blues
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Alex Tudor is a sweet and generous man. When you ask him to name the best new- ball bowler by far in England he does not say Gough or Caddick, and certainly not himself. It is his Surrey team-mate Martin Bicknell: "He's fit, he gets caught- behinds because he is tall, he takes 60 wickets a year, and he can bat. I don't know what more you can do," he says.

Yet Tudor is the favourite to be picked for England this morning, coming into the squad in place, perhaps, of Dominic Cork. He is happy about the idea, but sad for Bicknell, who was strongly tipped for a place in England's team for the Lord's Test. Tudor was so sure that Bicknell would be chosen that he was about to phone him two weeks ago to congratulate him when he heard that he had been omitted. He was shocked, and you can see why by looking at the averages. Bicknell had taken 41 first-class wickets at 22.97 this season compared to Tudor's 17 at 36.35, and Bicknell is the adviser when Tudor's action goes awry.

Of course, Tudor has missed a couple of games because of a recurrent side-strain, and he is tipped for a place now because he is fit again. His short career has been dogged by injury. The side strain is a relic of an operation he had five years ago to remove a floating bone on his 11th rib. He says it still gets sore, especially when his action gets "a bit slingy". But it has been fine for a month now. Before that it was the left knee which crucified him for a year or so and ruined a tour to South Africa in 1999-2000.

His breakdown on that tour led to some muttering among the England management, which looked bad when it was blown up in the papers. (He says he has not read them since.) But when we talked last week he had heard the word about his possible recall, and he has given the Australians some thought. "It's important that we bowl maidens," he says. "If you're bowling maidens, you feel a lot more confident."

Tudor is an imposing figure, 6ft 5in tall and broadening out in the beam. He is 23 and believes that he has grown into his body at last, though he still works hard. "As a fast bowler you strengthen your stomach, your arse and your legs, because they take all the pounding."

He no longer bothers with his chest and shoulders, and makes gym work on those areas sound like vanity. He has become sufficiently confident about his body to dismiss the notion that being injury-prone will spoil his career. "I'd rather it happened now than later," he says. He is fortunate in having an optimistic nature.

I thought I heard him say he is a "riven" bowler and wondered how to ask what had caused him to be split apart. But it was his south London argot speaking. Tudor is a rhythm bowler, not a riven one. He needs a couple of overs to smooth the run-up and get the line and length right, and then the ball goes through nicely.

Tudor's problem is that the rhythm can prove elusive. It had deserted him earlier this season, when he looked like a pie-thrower on a batting track at Northamptonshire and Bicknell had to tell him that shortening his run and letting the arm drop away was not working.

The rhythm returned only a month ago, when Surrey played Lancashire and he bowled genuinely fast: "I got it through and felt good. Everything clicked into gear," he says. He bowled well at the B&H final a couple of weeks ago, and had his best figures for the season (5 for 54) against Northamptonshire at Guildford last week.

Against Lancashire he had looked like the promising young man who made his Test debut as a 21-year-old late in 1998 at Perth, when he took the wickets of Mark and Steve Waugh. Steve told Tudor that he had been impressed. "He told me to keep working hard and strengthen the body. Do the right things, he said, and it will be there for you."

But success has not been there for him. He has played only one Test since that Ashes tour – when he scored 99 not out against New Zealand. He arrived in South Africa not having played for five months, and needing another month to work himself into match fitness, but injuries to more senior fast bowlers than himself forced him to play in the first game of the tour. This reversed his recovery and ended his chances of a Test place. "South Africa was not a good point in my young career so far," he explains. "A lot of things were said."

Tudor was still very young, and that winter he leant heavily on his father, who works as the gateman at The Oval: "I spoke to my dad a lot that winter. People were writing some unkind words. My dad says if someone does something against you, just hold it in, but it does upset me. I don't get injured on purpose. But you've got to cope with it.

"I just try to do what I'm paid for. I'm very lucky I'm not in an office from nine to five wearing a shirt and tie. I'm very grateful with what God gave me."

He played a season of county cricket last summer ("My body was nice to me last year") and went to Pakistan as cover for injuries but did not play. Earlier this summer he met Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher at The Oval when England were practising for the NatWest series; he says they both encouraged him.

"Duncan gives you great confidence. 'Tude, we need you in there at No 8,' he said to me." You can see Fletcher's point. Tudor wishes to be known as an all-rounder. He scored his first first-class century this summer and averages 42.87 for the season, which is comfortably higher than either Mark Butcher or Ian Ward. His batting may well give Tudor the edge that gets him back into the Test team.

If that is what does happen, it will surely be Alex Tudor who points out that Martin Bicknell, with an average of 41.88 this season, can bat a bit too.