James Lawton: Fletcher must reject England's defectors

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The Independent Online

It took the inevitable evidence that England are incapable of making a serious fight of the Test series in India for the coach, Duncan Fletcher, to say what had been previously considered officially unsayable. Even then, the old pro's message was so heavily coded it might have been misinterpreted as a sigh of regret rather than a full scale cry of rage.

But rage it should have been. Fletcher allowed himself only the comment: "I feel a bit disappointed that we haven't got our strongest side out here. You are always going to be at a disadvantage, missing four or five players, especially playing India in their own conditions."

What he should have said – what he might have been able to say if the competitive instincts of English cricket had not been so relentlessly atrophied – was that the defection of Alec Stewart, blithely commenting for television on the disaster of the first Test, Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Robert Croft automatically forfeited any future appearances on the international stage.

In all the decline of England's status as a front-rank Test nation, nothing was so mealy-mouthed as the acceptance of the right of key players to go missing from such a demanding tour. Now that the consequences are becoming apparent, the coach mumbles his regrets. He would do better to impress upon a new generation of Test cricketers that playing for your country should not be a floating option. It should be the obligation of a serious professional. Those who shun the responsibility should be shown the door of the dressing-room. Permanently, that is.