James Lawton: England must find the consistency of natural-born winners
Thursday 29 July 2010
It says a lot for the development of England under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss that there will scarcely be a breath of selection controversy at Trent Bridge over the next few days.
The closest to a gust of it accompanies the outcome of the first installment of the mano-a-mano between Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan.
Already it has been painted in vivid terms. Morgan, of course, does vivid whenever he comes to the wicket, whatever type of cricket or sub-species of it in which he happens to be involved. It is not something that can be said of the doughty Trott.
At times in his brief stint with England Trott might have brought fresh gloom and solemnity to a Welsh funeral, which is not to say that he doesn't represent an impressively solid addition to the team's batting strength since his century in his first Test at The Oval against the Australians last summer.
However, Mr Swashbuckler he is not and anyone who has been trapped in a cricket ground while he goes through his interminable, and at times frankly unsporting, preparation to receive a single ball will surely have raised their eyebrows this week at what was arguably the cricket quote of the year.
"They called me a flash in the pan, so getting a double ton [against Bangladesh] was pleasing," he declared. Yes, he said flash in the pan. Morgan might reasonably consider taking action under the Trades Description Act.
However, what England need even more against the impressively revived Pakistan than the pyrotechnics of Morgan and the continued application of the South African-born Trott are the virtues to which Stuart Broad has this week paid extravagant lip service in his newspaper column.
Under a headline declaring, "We'll show no fear against Pakistan... then be raring for the Aussies," Broad said, "Pakistan will clearly be a force to be reckoned with in the four Tests over the next month. But we are ready for this. The harder the challenge we face now the better it is as far as looking ahead to an Ashes winter goes."
It's a good theory but ever since the Ashes glory of 2005 we know that in English hands it is as fragile as a piece of porcelain. Broad, talented though he is, is perhaps the supreme example of an English ailment which can carry the patient so quickly between hubris and disillusionment – and then back again in the course of one mini-series.
At times in the Ashes triumph of last year Broad looked like the young English god of the game. At others he was petulant to the point of outrage in the way he spoke to team-mates and umpires, a characteristic which deeply affected his bowling performance in a potentially disastrous defeat at Headingley. Now, the requirement, which to be fair he has publicly acknowledged, is the kind of consistency, both of mood and performance, which marks the natural-born winners.
Even in their reduced circumstances, the Australians continue to generate an overwhelming sense that they do not quite know when they are beaten. They left Headingley last weekend beaten and deeply wounded, but not at the cost of any belief that when England arrive in Brisbane in November they won't again be pawing the ground in anticipation of revenge.
Since the collapse of Kevin Pietersen's captaincy at the start of last year, there is no doubt that the combination of Flower and Strauss has given England a confidence and a stability that has at times been quite spectacular – and not least when the wreckage of Headingley was cleared away with such authority at The Oval in the final Test of last summer. However, it is premature to believe that a fault-line no longer exists.
There was certainly plenty of evidence of its existence in South Africa in the winter, when the possibility of a hugely important series win was eventually swept away at the Wanderers ground. Had it happened, there would have been solid basis to believe that the ground lost so light-headedly in the wake of 2005 had been won back under significant pressure.
Now, there is a new invitation to prove that English cricket has grown strong again at some extremely broken places. The Pakistanis have new leadership, new talent and apparently a fresh appetite for returning to the mainstream of Test cricket after the ravaging impact of last year's terrorism. It offers the perfect challenge for a team who enjoy plenty of reasons to believe that they will triumph here before going back to Australia to consign to history the memory of an England team that simply fell apart four years ago.
It is a task that starts not in Queensland but in Nottingham today. England are craving to be taken seriously as the revived force in the world game. But first they must persuade themselves. It is a habit that, beyond the Broad declaration, they still have to fight to acquire.
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