Croft fails to master craft of an off-spinner

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The Independent Online

There is no disgrace in being put to the sword by Brian Lara. Better attacks than England's have suffered that fate and, if the great man is prepared to put his mind to it, there will be others. It was just a pity he chose to interrupt the present improvement in England's fortunes.

There is no disgrace in being put to the sword by Brian Lara. Better attacks than England's have suffered that fate and, if the great man is prepared to put his mind to it, there will be others. It was just a pity he chose to interrupt the present improvement in England's fortunes.

It is a dreadful pity, too, that England's spin bowling should have plunged to the point where Robert Croft is picked as the country's best off-spinner. On a wearing pitch which was predictably helping spin, he made little impact except as a stock bowler of no great pedigree. For a start, he is not a big spinner of the ball and, for a bowler of his experience, he is irritatingly inconsistent. Too often the batsmen can go safely on to the back foot and pull or cut him and his line varies alarmingly.

Then there is the question of flight. If only he had the courage to give the ball more air to try to beat the batsman in the flight and to wrong foot him. This becomes a more important weapon if you do not turn the ball a long way.

But there is something essentially negative about Croft as there is about most contemporary finger spinners. England's cricket suffered badly when the decision was made 20 years ago to play only on covered pitches, and no one suffered more than the finger spinners of this realm.

A rain-affected pitch was no longer on the menu. As a result, finger spinners were no longer able to look forward to those happy times on a drying pitch when figures of, say, 7 for 24, were theirs for the taking.

On the bland pitches of today they have become the toilers of the game. They labour away for 30 or more overs an innings and have done well if they come up with something like two or three for 70 or 80. The carrot has been taken away and only the stick remains.

Gradually they have lost the art of knowing how to attack. It is their job to wear down and to frustrate the opposition to the point where they become impatient and get themselves out. Off-spinners of old knew how to use helpful conditions - they were not worth their board and lodging if they did not know how to get the best out of a drying pitch. I don't suppose the selectors spent much time discussing Peter Such for this match. Ronnie Irani and Keith Fletcher have left him out of half of Essex's games this year, preferring to bring along a youngster, Tim Mason. But in his few chances for England in recent years, including Tests at Adelaide, Sydney and Old Trafford, last year against New Zealand, Such has taken a good number of wickets.

Although he may not have had much practice this year, I would still have backed him to do a better job in these conditions than Croft, who had the added spur of taking a wicket in his first over. It is an appalling indictment of the game as it is played today that these two are the only viable alternatives.

For much too long England have been guilty of throwing away good situations. It was now the turn of West Indies to put unnecessary pressure on themselves. After Lara and Jimmy Adams had eschewed all risks for 166 minutes, Lara suddenly lost his senses after Adams had played Craig White to mid-wicket and came charging out of his crease and could not get back before Nasser Hussain's throw.

It was in Antigua in early 1998 when Graham Thorpe and Hussain were batting England to a position of strength that Thorpe turned his back on his partner, who was run out. This precipitated a collapse which was spectacular even by England's standards at the time. These things will always happen.

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