There is no hidden secret about England's cricket. They have just come through two appalling Test matches against South Africa. In the second, at Lord's, it looked as if half the side were not up for it and the selectors have apparently taken the unprecedented step of warning the former captain, Nasser Hussain, about his attitude during this game.
His insensitivity was made clear at Edgbaston when he announced his retirement between back-to-back Test matches. His successor, Michael Vaughan, had nothing to thank him for. Hussain also said that he wanted to go on playing and yet appeared to be in an insufferable sulk throughout the Lord's Test.
That alone must have gone through the England dressing-room like a red hot needle if the affable chairman of selectors, David Graveney, was prepared to warn Hussain as to his future conduct. This is especially so as the increasingly pompous coach, Duncan Fletcher, has always been Hussain's greatest supporter, although he and the chairman are said not to "get on".
Hussain clearly upset Vaughan by his attitude at Lord's and should never have been selected for Thursday's Test at Trent Bridge. In his way, he did an extremely good job as England's captain over four years and, as he said in his resignation speech, turned them into a side that was much more respected in world cricket circles, outside Australia of course.
It is now, having left the job by his own wishes, that he should stand up and be counted. He behaved like a sulking child at Lord's and was even prepared to mouth off at South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, when he and James Anderson had almost run into each other. Not unnaturally this upset Vaughan who, in time, will bring a much less tense and neurotic approach to the job of the captaincy.
Vaughan is a supremely level-headed human being; Hussain is not - dramatically passionate people almost never are. Hussain and Fletcher got on famously together and they will have fuelled not only each other's best points, but their worst ones as well. They probably became too close for their own good. One doubts whether Vaughan is Fletcher's sort of man. The new captain is secure in his own thoughts and methods and does not feel the need to keep looking over his shoulder.
He has already shown a natural aptitude for the job of captaincy - the odds were so stacked against him, from within as well as from without, at Lord's, that the events of that match must not be held against him. They should be held much more against Hussain, for the shameful way in which he first allowed the burden to fall on Vaughan, giving him all of 48 hours to prepare himself and his side for his first Test match as captain. Then, when it came to the match itself, he behaved like a spoilt child.
One can only suppose that a weak-minded selection panel allowed Fletcher to have his say when the side for Trent Bridge was chosen, which will have led to Hussain's retention. The uncertainty about Graham Thorpe's fitness was a useful excuse, but this committee, or certain members of it, seem determined to turn their backs on England's best batsman for as long as they can.
One could only feel desperately sorry for Vaughan at Lord's. Being the man he is, he will have hardened considerably in the heat of that particular crucible and will now be all too well aware of what he is up against. It will be no surprise if he is not soon on the telephone to Tom Moody, the Western Australian who coaches Worcester and must be in line if and when a successor to Fletcher is needed.
One hopes that under Vaughan's captaincy there will be a much more open accountability from within the England dressing-room. Since Hussain and Fletcher came together it has been increasingly as if they have together been running a secret society. The chairman of selectors, who is the most delightful of men, occasionally reveals the odd snippet in his easy-going way, but generally the dressing-room tries to behave as if it is Fort Knox.
Those who have anything to do with the England side seem to behave almost as if they have taken an oath never to reveal, let alone be critical, about what goes on. Even if what, happily, seems no longer to be called Team England play as badly as they have in the first two Tests against South Africa, criticism is seen as a form of lèse-majesté.
It is as if all those involved, from the studious and worthy but limited worker bees from within the England and Wales Cricket Board busily engaged in sexing up the image of England's cricket, to those more closely involved within the dressing-room, are engaged in a more or less permanent and futile process of brainwashing. England's cricket would be better regarded, less of a laughing stock and, who knows, more effective if it shed its coat of self-importance. How lucky they are to have found a relaxed, highly capable new captain who also has the priceless asset of a sense of humour. My goodness, he is going to need it in the days, weeks and years ahead.Reuse content