Cautious optimism after the suffering

Henry Blofeld identifies signs of consistency on the road to success
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The Independent Online

This third Test match has so far been England's most encouraging performance for a long time because there is beginning to be real evidence that their cricket is now built on a platform which is stronger than it has been for some time. There has been an efficiency and a consistency about it all.

This third Test match has so far been England's most encouraging performance for a long time because there is beginning to be real evidence that their cricket is now built on a platform which is stronger than it has been for some time. There has been an efficiency and a consistency about it all.

For much too long, both have been lacking and the occasional brilliant performance has almost inevitably been followed by an immediate return to bad habits which, of course, has been such an indictment of the system which breeds them.

In the West Indies early in 1998, good Tests in Port of Spain and Bridgetown were followed by shockers in Georgetown and St John's. The next year in Australia they could not live up to their stirring win in Melbourne. Last winter, a good showing in Durban was followed by a walloping in Cape Town. Last summer, a victory over New Zealand at Edgbaston was the preamble to New Zealand winning the series with something to spare. It was always the same old story.

England fans will again have been anxious after that heroic but lucky victory over West Indies at Lord's. But the one-day NatWest Series then worked as much to England's advantage as it did to West Indies' disadvantage. Without Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, we saw how little they had to offer while England, after two bad matches at the start, suddenly reminded themselves how they won at Lord's. Bowling a tight line and length and fighting almost every inch of the way they won the competition.

They were helped at Old Trafford by Jimmy Adams' extraordinary decision to bat first. The bowlers were immed-iately in the groove. Sparked off by Graham Thorpe's brilliant slip catch off Sherwin Campbell there was always purpose and method about England in the field. I wonder if Graeme Hick, whose days as an England player must surely be over, would have grabbed that one.

The fielding was brilliant and in sharp contrast to a slov-enly West Indies, who looked disenchanted with their lot and had forgotten the essential requirements of victory. It was too much even for Ambrose and Walsh, hard though they tried.

Of course, one must be careful. England have a very long way to go before they will have a realistic chance of beating Australia. Though it does look as if they have at last made a start along the right road, they must still show they know how to win this match.

The coach, Duncan Fletcher, and Nasser Hussain must have had an immense part to play in this. It was never going to be an easy or quick job for them. Having been together for the best part of a year, they seem to have laid the foundations. Fletcher is not a man to panic, which is so important. He has worked steadily and resolutely; he has not allowed himself to be blown by the winds of success and failure which can at times blow so hard and in opposite directions. He has never deviated from his set course.

Somehow, the newcomers Marcus Trescothick and Mich-ael Vaughan have typified the new spirit in the side. So too, on this third day, did the tail, with the last four wickets adding 93 important runs - it's a long time since that has happened. May-be the two-tier Championship is helping to toughen up our cricketers. Perhaps, too, a summer of seven Tests and 10 one-day internationals gives them a better chance to attune themselves to the needs of the top level. At any rate a most prom-ising start has been made.

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