Frayed edges epitomise a side that is falling apart at the seams

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The Independent Online

Any cricket lover who had, last week, ended his term on a desert island, would have deduced on his return that England's cricket was in a right old mess.

He would have noticed that after four times getting themselves into a potentially match-winning situation in the fourth Test here, England contrived to lose it by a considerable margin. What really would have made him wonder what was going on were the frilly bits round the edges that always seem to assume such importance.

There was the question on the second evening of whether or not Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher were right to come off for bad light when they were running the South African attack ragged. Trescothick admitted it was his decision to return to the pavilion and it appeared he was the only man in the ground that would have done so.

By coming off, they gave the South African bowlers the chance to regroup and when play resumed a few minutes later the two batsmen had to regain their momentum. Neither did and Jacques Kallis, the outstanding bowler of the match, removed them both. It was not long ago that Trescothick was perceived as Nasser Hussain's natural successor.

Incredibly, Trescothick has said that if he was again faced with the same set of circumstances, he would have acted in the same way. For a mind- boggling piece of self-justification and obstinacy, this takes the biscuit. If he really believes this, it is surely time for the men in the white coats.

Then there was Hussain's untimely dismissal to Jacques Rudolph's second ball in Test cricket. His departure from the crease and his return to the pavilion did not suggest he considered it to be one of life's brighter moments.

He has never enjoyed being out and took his scowl into the dressing room. From across the passage in the South African dressing-room one gathers that loud noises that suggested a soul in torment rather than physical agony then disturbed the peace.

It was written, with apparent authority, that Hussain had kicked the wall of the dressing room with such force that he was unable to field later in the day because of a bruised foot. This was denied feverishlyby the England management. When Hussain later discovered his big toe was broken he elaborated to the point that he is right-footed and would therefore have never have kicked a wall with his left.

It was a cool decision to make in such frenetic circumstances and in any case it was no big thing if he had kicked the wall. By the end it was made to seem that this issue was more important than losing the match. I ask you!

Finally, in trying to explain his side's lamentable bowling on the fourth day, the coach said his players were desperately inexperienced and what could you expect. He said too that Andrew Hall had played in more Test matches than Andrew Flintoff. Flintoff has actually played 25 to Hall's six. Dear, oh dear, what a business!