Lack of practice makes England far from perfect

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The Independent Online

What on earth is going on? England cannot play one-day cricket for toffee - then there is a plot to do away with the umpire's traditional white coat.

What on earth is going on? England cannot play one-day cricket for toffee, in spite of a dressing room packed with specialist coaches and advisers; the usually unruffled chief executive of the ICC defends yet another pointless competition that has found its way into the already vastly overcrowded international calendar; John Read, the director of communications, has become the fourth influential executive in the last three months to turn his back on the much-troubled ECB; then there is a plot to do away with the umpire's traditional white coat.

It is impossible to understand what goes on inside the England dressing room. The most recent cry to have gone up is for depth in batting. All well and good provided there are enough all-rounders so that the side can field a proper attack and fielders agile enough to give these bowlers proper support. We now know there are not and that bits-and-pieces blokes won't do.

Last Tuesday's game against the West Indies at Lord's showed that, under pressure, the bowlers do not have anything like the control they should. One excepts Steve Harmison because he has been carrying the bowling on his shoulders hitherto in the competition and was entitled to one poor game. His colleagues most emphatically did not deliver and one can only wonder whether 18 holes at Wentworth the day before was the ideal build-up for Darren Gough, James Anderson and Paul Collingwood.

Forty years ago it would have been possible to come up with at least a dozen seam bowlers from county cricket who would have been deeply ashamed of themselves to have gone for more than 50 in their 10 overs. Brought up on uncovered pitches, hard work had taught them the importance of control and they were able effectively to switch on to austerity mode at will. Today's bowlers do not get through anything like the same number of overs as their counterparts did then. It was constant practice that put the old-timers in the groove.

Fielding is one department that the limited-over version of the game has improved dramatically. Yet anyone watching England in the field at Lord's could have been forgiven for doubting it. "Practice, practice, practice" should be the constant mantra from the assembled coaches. There can be no excuse for slovenly fielding and one would have thought that with a score of 284 at their backs, the England players would have had their chins up and been mustard keen. But it was too dreadful for words.

What is going wrong within the dressing room? And what has happened since that débâcle, and shouldn't we be told? Imagine the hue and cry if Australia had turned in that sort of performance. Harsh words would have been followed by swift remedial action. But what has happened here after England so humiliatingly failed to make the cut? The players have gone back to their counties - with strong words ringing in their ears? Don't count on it. For some it will now be the Twenty20 and then most of them will be back at Lord's the week after next for the first Test, a match the West Indies will now enter with a psychological edge.

Oh yes, and is someone going to remind Michael Vaughan that, being such a talented player, there is no need for him to try and hit the cover off the ball every time he plays a stroke? When he does so he plays the ball too far in front of him and it goes up into the air.

Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC, has done his best to justify the arrival of the Super Series. Australia will play the Rest of the World in a six-day Test match in Australia for $1m (£538,000) and the best one-day specialist players will gather for a three-match series with $750,000 (£403,000) as prize money. The leading countries have all given the Super Series their blessing and the competition will be played every four years, starting in October 2005.

The motive for this can only be a further attempt to fill the unfathomably deep pockets of the ICC, a body that appears to have an almost fatal attraction for Dubloons and Pieces of Eight. Cricket matches played between scratch sides without any national loyalties tend to be bloodless affairs and although the individual battles are one on one, it is hard to avoid the feeling that it does not really matter and is at most an exhibition match. What will our beloved administrators saddle us with next?

Then there is the dear old ECB. If ever an organisation reeks of bickering division, unhappiness, lack of leadership and general turmoil, it is England's governing body. Zimbabwe has been the principal rock on which it has foundered but the departure of John Read following the chief executive, Tim Lamb, the commercial director, Mark Sibley, and board member Des Wilson, argues a ship that has been holed below the waterline. Ian Fleming wrote in one of the Bond books, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and three times is open warfare." He might have added that four times is meltdown.

Apparently the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers want to do away with the white coat in favour of something much more modern. I can already hear Frank Chester and Sid Buller turning in their graves and if Dickie Bird should get your ear on the subject he'll bend it for a session or two. Leave dressing up (or down) to the one-day game.

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