James Lawton: Serendipity Kids bring England rich rewards

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ferociously efficient tracker dogs might just have unearthed the odd critic of English cricket lurking around St John's Wood these last few days but there was absolutely no guarantee as Brian Lara's bedraggled, inexperienced West Indians were driven against the wall once again.

Ferociously efficient tracker dogs might just have unearthed the odd critic of English cricket lurking around St John's Wood these last few days but there was absolutely no guarantee as Brian Lara's bedraggled, inexperienced West Indians were driven against the wall once again.

And why shouldn't that have been so, you might ask. Andrew Strauss turned in another huge performance on his home ground. Robert Key played with a power and an exuberance that announced Test cricket was something he was born to do. But here, in fact, was the point of reservation - and maybe the explanation of why the West Indians, who with the Australians for so long turned our best efforts into so many piles of dust, had to reach their current state of bankruptcy before we could dream of turning back all those decades of dire failure.

The worry was that when you thought about it the revelation of Strauss's brilliant temperament and Key's belligerent talent did not flow from some measured appreciation of our natural resources. No, not that at all. What it was was that England's captain, Michael Vaughan, had a million-to-one mishap in the Lord's nets and someone drove into the back of Mark Butcher's car and gave him a bad case of whiplash.

Earlier, Nasser Hussain decided to leave Test cricket - and spare the selectors the kind of decision which in Australia would have caused a bout of agonising that would have lasted no longer than several nanoseconds. Even in the current surge of success you hear echoes of the old problem. What will England do with Butcher restored to full fitness? Drop Strauss and return Vaughan to the opening position, maybe. Perhaps we could discard the pulverising Key, who after his double hundred in the first innings revealed that he came to Lord's with the troubling conviction that, despite his deep-down belief that he could truly cut it at the Test level, he was almost certainly on his last chance.

Key had every reason to believe that. When England's batsmanship at Test level looked far less healthy, the Kent batsman was given a run of games which in Australia would have been considered normal even in the absence of a big score. Mark Waugh suffered a run of low scores initially, but he had been identified early as a major talent... and so, of course, he was given time to breath in the more rarefied atmosphere of Test cricket.

When the world champion Australians were last here, their captain, Steve Waugh, gave one of a whole series of thinly veiled rebukes to the way English cricket thought - and operated. "It's not for me to say what the English game needs to do to get things right," said Waugh, "but it's no secret about the way we go about building a team. We pick out the cream of our players and give them a fair go at establishing themselves. Not every young player comes on at the same rate of knots, but if you are pretty sure of his ability you surely have to show a bit of patience."

In an earlier epoch of Australian dominance, the highly combative David Boon said, after England had once again been trounced at the Sydney Cricket Ground: "Playing England from series to series is like facing a cast of thousands, it's all change - that isn't the way to build a winning team." Just as significantly, when an England Test batsman makes his reputation, and acceptable numbers, he is virtually assured of a place for his playing life - hence the extraordinary situation when it was left to Hussain to consider a lucrative offer from Sky television which provided a noble exit from the Test scene which would give the chance for new blood.

New blood like Andrew Strauss and Robert Key - not-so-young batsmen who have finally been allowed to make their mark. The trouble is the happenstance by which they achieved their new status. They are, let's face it, not the fruit of hard, inspired selection. They are, and no less inspiring for it, the Serendipity Kids.

Comments