England had plenty to play for but little to win in their first one-day outing of the summer yesterday. Beat Wales and the only logical verdict would be that so they should. Lose (again) and another brave new world would be looking slightly less valiant.
In the event, they won by eight runs, despite making a mild porridge of proceedings. Most of the batsmen, including the new captain, Michael Vaughan, failed, but they recovered to make a serviceable total. The Welsh, largely consisting of Glamorgan, cut an early dash in reply but lost wickets too frequently to establish a solid platform.
England fielded with rare skill. It was necessary to blink in disbelief at the number of times they hit the stumps from direct hits, usually through Vikram Solanki or Rikki Clarke, and they achieved an almost unprecedented three run-outs. It had become a truism of the world game that England always miss. Not under Vaughan, they don't.
Mostly, the match was a chance for this remodelled England party to assemble for the first time and bond. There were four men in the side and another in the squad who have yet to play a one-day international. A new skipper, a new team. Remember, it all started in Wales.
It was natural to scrutinise the novices and their potential fitness for the job, not to mention the way in which Vaughan conducted himself. But the eye was taken by a much more familiar figure. Darren Gough was returning. It was not for the first time, it will certainly be for the last.
Alongside the box asking for "occupation" on his passport, Gough could have an option. He could insert either "fast bowler" or "comeback specialist". He has had three knee operations. That he is in the side yet again is because of three factors: selectorial optimism and desire for experience; the overwhelming support of Vaughan, his fellow Yorkshireman; and a quite stirring determination to overcome debilitating injury.
Gough could easily have retired for the less rigorous pastures of the commentary box, where his status as a card would have gone down well (and doubtless, one day, will). But he knows that retirement lasts a long time.
He was hardly in his pomp yesterday. If he ever returns to that state it will take five or six heavy-duty matches. But he was typically competitive. His late-order batting salvaged England's innings. He was eminently sensible and kept the board ticking over.
His bowling naturally lacked spark and a consistent length, but he induced a couple of edges. He also got a wicket, a good one too, as Matthew Maynard walked across his stumps to one that kept low.
"There were plenty of times when I thought it might be over," said Gough. "There are even times now when I think like that. But I love cricket, being involved and playing, even at county level. I've really enjoyed it this year.
"When I bowled my first ball in my first Championship game back this summer I didn't know where it was going. I have never been like that before, even on my Test debut. I didn't know what to do."
The ebullient Yorkshireman tries to make light of it, but he is miffed that he has been written off so many times. He sees it now as a point of personal honour to prove those observers wrong. "I'm 32. A lot of the great players wouldn't have played half their internationals if they'd stopped at 32," he said.
But a lot of the great players did not have Gough's weak knee. He has targets in his mind, but will not reveal them. If a return to the Test arena is tempting (250 wickets must appeal), he said he would consider a specialist one-day career. "Would it mean I didn't have to play four-day cricket?"
The side on paper yesterday morning did not much seem to resemble one that might lift the World Cup in 2007, but then there might have been a time when a combination including Hayden, Ponting, Gilchrist and McGrath looked like stumblebums. England contained only two players from the side who lost the corresponding fixture last year. They had to start somewhere.
Where they did so was in winning the toss, batting and losing their first four wickets for 44 runs. All the victims were lbw against the swinging white ball. Solanki, the new opener, played loosely and was the first to depart.
The next three wickets all fell to the Australian Mike Kasprowicz, for two runs in 11 balls. He bowled full and straight. Vaughan had one that was too good for him, the debutant Jim Troughton shouldered arms, and Andrew Flintoff was squared up. Vaughan, the Test batting hero, needs one-day runs. The number on the back of his shirt is 99. What he would do for that many at present.
Amid this potential carnage, Marcus Trescothick played assertively, as did Anthony McGrath. McGrath has not yet met much real opposition but he looks at home internationally. He made exactly 50 from 60 balls and later injured his left groin while fielding, though not seriously.
Trescothick was bowled round his legs, but two tiros, Clarke and Kabir Ali, and Gough wagged well. Clarke was run out by a deft piece of work from Robert Croft. Kabir and Gough shared an invaluable unbroken stand of 42 for the eighth wicket.
Thanks to Croft and some untidy bowling by Anderson, Glamorgan began well. But England stuck at it in the field. Wickets kept falling ,and only Croft made a half-century as a close finish loomed.
Ashley Giles took the crucial wickets of Croft and David Hemp in an over, and the balance was always tilted towards England thereafter. A last-wicket flourish of 21 shifted it slightly again, but the final wicket fell when Kabir had Dean Cosker caught at cover by Vaughan.
Trescothick, who also kept wicket because Chris Read's thumb is not yet fully repaired, was man of the match. But the new captain had made his mark. There is a long, long way to go, but England are on their way.Reuse content